Why Your Hip Flexors Are Tight–And How to Relieve The Tension

Increase range of motion and eliminate residual pain with these easy tips

As mountain bikers, we rely heavily on our hip flexors. You knew that, right? These muscle groups, known in the field as the iliopsoas, are robust and act forcefully on the pelvis, the femur, and the lumbar spine. Yes, you read that right, the spine, a pretty important thing. While each group is made up of many muscles, the iliacus and psoas are the two the largest and most powerful hip flexors.

A look at the hip flexor groups and their attachment points with the skeleton.

Primarily responsible for hip flexion (AKA bringing your knee toward your chest), this muscle group is in a shortened position more often than not, often leading to tightness and diminished range of motion. Desk warriors, cyclists, and folks who spend long hours in the car find themselves in hip flexion a lot, making them prime candidates for hip flexor issues. Sound like anyone you know?

In my clinical practice, a vast majority of my clients can only manage between zero and five degrees of true hip extension. When I say “true hip extension,” I’m referring to the range of motion that actually comes from your hip and is not supplemented by arching of the lower back. In a perfect world, all humans would be able to achieve around 10-15 degrees of true hip extension.

To put that in perspective, imagine you could only manage 50 degrees of motion in your elbow joint. In that scenario (where picking your nose, let alone sending a jump, would be quite difficult) there’d be no doubt in your mind that you had a problem, yet most of us live day in and day out lacking much of our hip extension mobility–and we’re none the wiser.

Common pain sites related to hip flexor tension

What we don’t know can, in fact, hurt us–without this mobility, lower back pain, knee pain, IT band pain, and many other possible pain sites are common. Lack of hip extension mobility also seriously limits your ability to optimally utilize your gluteus maximus–and that’s a big ass problem (pun intended). Not only will restrictions in your hip flexors’ length cause mechanical changes down the kinetic chain, you can also experience referral pains from the muscle itself. This is very common and often misunderstood as its referral pattern is usually to the low back or anterior hip or thigh.

Two Techniques to Relive Hip Flexor Tension

The couch stretch with a resistance band is a great idea for anyone who is in a flexed hip position often (again, that’s almost everyone). Sometimes, however, more than stretching is needed to address a stiff psoas and manual release techniques can help achieve pain relief. This can be done with the goal of reducing referral pain in the low back you suspect is coming from the hip flexors. Check out the videos below to learn how to properly stretch and release hip flexor tension. Think of the release techniques in the same way you think of foam rolling your quads or glutes.

Couch Stretch with Band

Manual Release Techniques

This article originally appeared on Revo PT & Sports Performance.

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