Stretch Your Hip Flexor Muscles

Iliopsoas muscle

 

Stretch your Hip Flexor Muscles

 

By: Dr. Peggy Malone

 

If there is any stretch that I am asked about the most in my practice it is a stretch for the hip flexor muscles.  This is a stretch that will make a big difference in every area of your sport and your life if done regularly.

 

The hip flexor muscle is also known as the Iliopsoas muscle. It is made up of the Iliacus and the Psoas (pronounced so-az) muscles.

 

There is one Iliopsoas muscle on each side of your body and these muscles attach to your legs and then come up under your guts and attach to your spine (Lesser trochanter of the femur to the TVPs of the T12-L5 vertebrae).

 

When I show a picture of the Iliopsoas muscle to patients in my office, it is helpful when they realize it looks kinda like the tenderloin you grilled up last week that was delicious (I know, a bit morbid…but helps with the visual…check it out above)

 

Many athletes mistakenly think that their hip flexor muscles are just at their hips.  When you see the path that these muscles actually take in the body, it helps you to understand why they contribute to the pain and dysfunction that they do.

 

The job of the hip flexor muscles together is to pull your trunk down toward your legs and to pull your legs up toward your trunk.  These muscles also help to keep your pelvis and low back stabilized.

 

They are deep within your abdomen and are difficult to find and feel and as a result, they are often ignored.

 

This leads to loads of problems in athletes and non-athletes alike.  These muscles are underappreciated and overworked and their dysfunction is a major contributor to back pain as well as pain and injury from the floor to the core.

 

Let’s explore this a little more and then I’ll show you how to stretch your hip flexors.

 

In previous posts, we have discussed the dangers of sitting and how it contributes to not only injury, but to illness and a shorter life.  

 

The hip flexor muscles are in a constant state of being shortened and tightened while in a seated position.  So if you sit a lot (which we have discussed in several posts….you do) then your hip flexors are short and tight.

 

This leads to several problems. 

 

1) The tight Iliopsoas muscle will remain tight when you go to stand which will cause it to yank down on it’s upper attachment at the spine and potentially cause low back pain.

 

2) When the hip flexor muscle is tight and shortened, the Law of Reciprocal Inhibition, which we have gone over in previous posts, says that it’s partner (gluteal musculature on the opposite side of the joint) will be lengthened and deactivated.

 

I refer to this deactivation by telling my patients that their gluteal musculature has gone on holidays.   The gluteal muscles essential lose their function.

 

3) You’ll probably want to refer to some of the other articles I’ve written where I discuss why gluteal musculature that is not functioning well (in part because of tight and shortened hip flexors) can lead to pain and injury from the core down the anatomy train toward the feet.

 

Plantar fasciitis, Achilles Tendonitis Shin Splints, Iliotibial band Syndrome, Patellofemoral Syndrome, Hip Pain and Low Back Pain can all be the result of gluteal musculature that is not doing it’s job.

 

So all of that is the bad news.

 

The good news is that you can help get past these injuries, avoid future injuries, perform better, as well as be happier and healthier if you stretch out your hip flexor muscles regularly.

 

Here’s how:

 

In my office, I refer to this stretch as ‘The Proposal Stretch’

 

Get down on one knee.  The hip flexor that you are stretching is the same leg that has the knee on the floor.  

 

Let’s stretch your right hip flexor to start.

 

Bring your knee and your hip to 90 degrees to start.

Hip Flexor stretch start position

 

First:  press your right foot into the floor (as if you are kicking down).  You will fill this in the front of your thigh in the quadriceps muscle.

 

Second: raise your right hand up overhead and reach up toward the ceiling.

Hip Flexor Stretch Arm Up

 

Third: squeeze your right gluteal muscles as you shift your right hip forward.

Hip Flexor Stretch

 

You should feel a stretch in the front of your right thigh and also in the right front of your hip and coming up into your abdomen.

 

If you feel any pinch or tenderness at your low back, then back off.

 

Hold for 30 seconds

 

Then do the other side.

 

Some alternatives:

 

If you can’t comfortably get to the floor, do the same stretch with your knee resting on a chair or the side of a bed.

 

If you don’t want to put your knee right down (because it is uncomfortable to do so or you are outside and it is dirty or wet) then use the same instructions but in a lunge position instead of having the knee on the ground.

 

This stretch for your hip flexor muscles is, in my opinion, one of the most important stretches that every person can do every day in this world where we all sit way too much.

 

Ok, you’ve been sitting here for a few minutes reading this…it’s time to get up and stretch.

 

Live Well,

 

Peggy

 

 

Dr. Peggy Malone is a Chiropractor and an Athlete who helps other athletes to overcome injury and get back to their sport. Her weekly Television Series 'Living Well" inspires people from all walks of life to take control of their health to be as happy and as healthy as they can be.

A former varsity Basketball and Rugby player, she has since entered the world of endurance athletics where she has completed 2 Ironman Triathlons, 3 Marathons, several Half Marathons and many other Triathlons, Road Races and Off-Road Adventure races of varying distances.

Her own athletic endeavors and injuries have given her valuable insight into working with athletes in her practice for both the care of injuries as well as for the improvement of athletic performance.

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7 Comments
  • lucy
    January 23, 2012

    fabulous explanation!  I'm on it!

  • Avaneil John
    June 10, 2013

    Hi, Dr. Peggy, the following is is your article: Stretch Your Hip Flexor Muscles
    by DR PEGGY on JANUARY 23, 2012. In this article, there is a hip flexor picture, which I would like to use for a article. Could you tell me where I can find the picture (I have search many stock photo sites, but no results). If this is your original could I use the picture?

    Would greatly appreciate this information. Thanks.

    Avaneil

  • P.Diban
    June 23, 2013

    Hi Peggy, again well done again on a well explain article. On the hip flexor stretch I think there is a better way to do it for people with anterior pelvic tilt. When this patient try to do the above stretch what happen is that they tend to hyperflex their hip causing more pain to their hip. I would suggest to them to lie on the bed with their feet hanging down. Bring one leg to their chest and hold the stretch and hold position for 15sec.

    • Dr Peggy
      July 12, 2013

      I think that there are pros and cons to both options. People often experience back pain because of increase extension in the posterior lumbar spine joints when doing this stretch in the way you’ve suggested…..that is why I suggest the stretch above because you can have more control of the musculature. If a patient is having a lot of pain with either option, they are likely in need of a professional to help them…the above stretch is a guideline for the average person doing a hip flexor stretch! Thank you for your comment!

  • Antony Daffurn
    November 12, 2013

    Excellent! Always on at my clients about this stretch and the correct way to hit it. Do you feel that adding a posterior tilt to pelvis would help this stretch if clients are aware of how to do this?

  • LeeAnne
    April 7, 2014

    Thanks .. I will certainly try the exercise and thank you for the visual both in the chart and picture. My hip flexor muscles have given me alot of pain lately and I appreciate the advice.

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