Tight Hip Flexors: 3 Ways To Work Through The Pain

With all of the hype surrounding the phrase low back pain, more often than not, many folks go down the internet rabbit hole of keyword searches. They then subsequently step into my office almost certain they have a herniated disc, or some sort of degenerative disc problem. While this is absolutely a possibility, I invite you to take a deep breath, and ask yourself a question, “when was the last time I stretched my hip flexors?”

Many of us are familiar with the infamous “psoas muscle,” or the Iliopsoas (2 muscles, to be exact), which is the deepest and strongest flexor of the hip. What many people do not know is that the psoas major actually originates from its superior attachment in the lumbar spine (low back), which is extremely significant in tracing the cause of low back pain. Any tightness or irritability in the psoas muscle (hip flexor) can have a direct impact on the lumbar spine, causing tightness, achiness, or in some cases, sudden sharp pain. Tightness in the hip flexors also puts a “pulling tension” on the front of the pelvis, resulting in anterior pelvic tilt. This essentially yanks the pelvis forward and down, causing an over exaggerated lumbar curve, and even more compression in the lumbar spine. If you picture your pelvis as a cereal bowl, anterior pelvic tilt is comparable to you tilting your bowl forward and spilling all of your Cheerios...nobody wants that!

So how do we get tight hip flexors? Obviously, athletic activities like running, cycling, and heavy squatting will aggravate these muscles. However, one of the things that aggravates them the MOST is sitting, so for everyone who spends hours a day at a desk or behind the wheel of a car, this blog is for you! Even though you may feel comfortable in the seated position, the hip flexors are actually shortened and under constant tension. This causes tightness, tightness causes weakness, weakness leads to pain and inactivity, and this leads to even more tightness! It is most definitely a cycle you don’t want to get stuck in.

So what can we do to decrease low back pain from tight hip flexors? STRETCH! Here are my 3 favorite ways to work through hip flexor tightness:

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1. Foam Roll: Before doing any static stretching, hop on the foam roller and warm up the muscle tissue. Lay face down on the floor, tuck the foam roller up under your hip/front of your thigh, and gently and slowly roll you body up and down on the roller for about 60 to 90 seconds. Sometimes sustained pressure on the hip flexor area is enough to get you sweating!

2. The Couch Stretch: There are SO many great hip flexor stretches (the internet is your oyster), but the couch stretch is my personal favorite. You can use a towel under your knee for cushion, and then slowly move into a lunge position, propping your back foot up on the wall, couch, chair, etc. Breathe deeply, and hold for about 30 seconds. To deepen the stretch, raise the arm on the same side as your back leg straight up next to your ear. Repeat this 2-3 times on each leg.

3. Take Standing Breaks at Work: If you drive or sit at a desk for countless hours, take standing breaks frequently throughout the day! 1-2 times an hour, stand up and walk around for a minute or two, and let those muscles lengthen. You can even set an alarm on your phone so you won’t forget-Your low back will thank you!

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Jessica Duncan Propes