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