Exercise tips: Simple ways to reduce muscle tension
Does working on your computer all day have your muscles feeling tight? Check out these stretches.
ProblemSolved, USA TODAY
If you’ve ever run, jumped, or been told you have good posture, you have your hip flexor muscles to thank. Conversely, muscle pain and immobility issues are often linked to problems within this group of muscles – issues that can typically be avoided through strength and toning exercises and proven stretching techniques.
“Stretching your hip flexors can help prevent and relieve muscle pain,” says Loren Fishman, MD, a professor of physical medicine and rehabilitation at Columbia University. It’s vital to use proper form when stretching these muscles, or you could cause more harm than good.
What are hip flexors?
The hip flexor muscle group consists of five muscles in the front part of your thigh and pelvic area. These muscles assist with hip and leg movements and also “play an important part in both your core strength and hip stability,” says Trevor Delaney, PT, DPT, a certified primary spine practitioner and a physical therapy program director at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.
These five muscles include the iliacus, pectineus, psoas, rectus femoris, and sartorius – each playing different roles involving strength, balance, and movement. Indeed, without these hip flexor muscles, you couldn’t lift your knees towards your chest, bend your body forward at your hips, or get around easily. “You use these muscles every time you walk,” says Wanda Evans, PT, DPT, a senior specialist at the American Physical Therapy Association.
What are the benefits of stretching hip flexors?
Caring for your hip flexor muscles involves avoiding a sedentary lifestyle and performing strength training exercises such as leg raises, squats, lunges, or deadlifts. Participating in any workout or sport that uses leg and thigh muscles can help as well. It’s also important to avoid unrestrained movements or activities that could pull or tear your hip flexors. Such movements could include kicking, sprinting, or suddenly changing direction while running, per Mount Sinai.
Hip flexor strain or tightness from rehabilitating muscle pain can often be avoided through variations of targeted stretches. “Making sure that you keep this group of muscles stretched properly can help to avoid all these conditions,” says Delaney. Stretching your hip flexors can also improve mobility and function. “Stretching these muscles will help increase length, loosen the joints, and increase range of motion,” says Evans.
How to stretch hip flexors:
- Lying on the floor on your left side with your left leg extended while you gently bend your right leg up at the knee behind your back until you can hold the top of your ankle with your right hand. Maintain the position for a moment before switching to the opposite side and leg.
- Kneeling on the floor with both knees before bringing your left leg up in front of you at a 90-degree angle while placing that foot flat on the floor. So you’re kneeling on your right knee alone. Keep that knee down with that foot extended straight back as you shift your upper body weight forward slightly (while keeping your back straight!) until you feel a stretch through the front of your groin and right thigh. Then switch legs and repeat the exercise on the other knee.
- Lying flat on your back at the edge of a bed or other elevated surface as you hang one leg over the edge and bend your other leg towards you while gently grabbing behind that knee to pull that leg towards your chest. After holding the position for a moment, rotate your direction on the bed to repeat the stretch with the other leg.
While performing these and other hip flexor stretches, it’s important “to keep it a comfortable stretch without forcing any motion,” advises Delaney. And if traditional hip flexor stretches don’t suit you, Fishman says some yoga poses such as the bridge pose or camel pose can also be effective at stretching these muscles. “Just be careful not to arch your back but instead use your gluteal muscles and hamstrings,” he suggests.
It’s also important to remember that different ages and body types have varying ranges of motion and flexibility, so some hip flexor stretches may need to be customized on a case-by-case basis. “Discuss with your physical therapist if you’re having pain or swelling in any of these muscles before stretching,” advises Evans. “And I recommend that you consult with a physical therapist to discuss an individualized program to stretch these muscles.”