Mobility is a critical part of life. In fact, our overall quality of life is closely related to how mobile we are. Unfortunately, aging and injury can slow us down and drive down our quality of life.
As we grow older in age, our bodies are more prone to injuries and our range of motion can deteriorate quite rapidly.
You can take certain measures to help maintain range of motion, with frequent stretching being one of them.
Our hip flexors are one important muscle group that deserves attention since they are essential for proper flexion in our torsos.
Hip Flexors and Their Role
Hip flexors refer to an important muscle group located in the pelvic area on the top front part of your thigh. This group of muscles help keep your posterior pelvic muscles balanced.
These muscles are attached to your hip joint. The primary muscles that make up the hip flexors are psoas major (iliopsoas), iliacus, pectineus, sartorius, and rectus femoris muscles.
What Hip Flexors Do?
Every time you take a step you are utilizing your hip flexors. This group of muscles allows you to bend at the waist and also allows you to bring your knees towards your torso and chest. Hip flexors are essential for proper flexion movement.
The largest hip flexor, known as the iliopsoas, attaches to the front of the lower back and the inside of the pelvis, where it eventually attaches to the femur (thigh bone). As a whole, the hip flexors allow you to bring your leg forward (e.g., walking and running).
In short, hip flexors are vital to everyday movement. When this muscle group is injured or strained, your comfort, overall mobility, and joint range of motion is affected.
Hip Flexor Tightness, Strain, and Injury
Those most prone to hip flexor tightness are those that live sedentary lifestyles. Sitting for prolonged periods can leave the muscles weak and tight since they are always shortened. This is made worse by poor posture.
Tightened hip flexors can lead to lower back discomfort and limited range of motion. It can also lead to strain or injury. Typically, hip flexor strains occur when the muscles are stretched or torn, caused by trauma or overuse.
The major symptom of a strained hip flexor is mild to moderate discomfort at the front hip, where it meets the thigh.
Other symptoms of hip flexor strain include, but are not limited to:
- Cramping in the upper leg muscles
- Tugging feeling in the upper groin
- Tenderness while walking (especially upstairs)
- Tightness or stiffness after sitting
- Difficulty kicking, sprinting, and jumping
Stretching Hip Flexors
You should include regular exercise in your daily routine. Exercises that target the hip flexors are encouraged to help build strength. For example, glute bridges are great for building hip flexor strength.
Bearing weight exercises (e.g., elliptical, running, etc.) can help build up strength and promote overall flexibility —not to mention the positive effects for cardiovascular health.
However, the importance of stretching is often overlooked by many. Stretching helps get the blood flowing to the muscle groups and also makes for a preventative measure to avoid sprains and strains.
Here are some helpful stretching exercises to help you stretch your hip flexors, increase your range of motion, and minimize the risk of tightness or strain.
It’s nice to kick things off with a simple stretch — the standing stretch.
- Start with your feet hip-width apart and keep your toes forward.
- Next, bend your right knee and bring your right heel up towards your butt.
- With your right hand, gently pull until your knee is pointing towards the floor.
- Hold for 20 – 30 seconds and repeat on the opposite leg.
If you have balance concerns, it’s perfectly okay to use a chair or counter to steady yourself.
Standing Lunge Stretch
Lunges are great exercises for building leg and glute strength, but they’re also great for stretching hip flexors.
- Stand straight up with arms at your side.
- Place hands on your hips (or your forward knee, whichever is more comfortable)
- Step forward with your right foot, so your stance is split.
- Lower your right knee until it reaches a 90-degree angle; you should extend your left leg behind you. Don’t let it bend past your toes.
- Hold for 20 – 30 seconds.
- Repeat on the opposite side.
Remember to keep your hips square and your chest up and open.
Seated Butterfly Stretch
This stretch will involve your hips, thighs, and lower back.
- Sit on the floor with your back straight and core engaged.
- Put the soles of your feet together in front of you with your knees bent out to the sides.
- Pull your heels towards you and allow your knees to relax closer to the floor.
- Hold the pose for 20 – 30 seconds. Don’t forget to breathe!
Reclined Hip Stretch
While this stretch might be tricky at first, it does wonders for stretching the hip flexors.
- Lie on your back (on a comfortable surface or yoga mat) with knees bent and feet flat on the floor.
- Next, bring your right knee to your chest as the right foot comes off the floor.
- Then, bring your left knee up and rotate outward at the hip, allowing the left foot to rest on your right thigh, just above the knee.
- To deepen the stretch, grasp behind your right thigh and pull gently. You should feel the stretch in the left hip.
- Hold for 20 – 30 seconds and repeat for the opposite side.
Hip flexors are an important muscle group for overall mobility and quality of life.
A sedentary lifestyle can lead to hip flexor tightening and leave you open to injury and strain. Thankfully, implementing a few daily stretches can help loosen them up.
Anatomical Terms of Movement - Flexion - Rotation | Teach Me Anatomy
Sedentary Lifestyle: Overview of Updated Evidence of Potential Health Risks | NIH
Common Hip Flexor Injuries and Treatments | Beacon Orthopedics
How to Do a Glute Bridge: Form, Workouts, and More - NASM | NASM