With all of the sitting, slouching, typing, and more sitting we do it’s no secret that a lot of people have low back pain. Most people assume this is because of an issue with the spine or spinal muscles, when in reality a few hip flexor stretches can actually do the trick to get rid of the pain. Now, I am not saying that these stretches are going to cure chronic back pain. What I am saying is that if you spend a lot of time sitting, tight hips might be the basis of the issue. With that, low back pain can also come from weakness, or lack of proper engagement, of the abdominal muscles. The evolution of humans has gone from constantly moving during the work day, to 100% sitting during the work day (check out these benefits of exercise on productivity). This sitting, turns into slouching, which pulls the shoulders forward, resulting in poor posture and a weak core. So, I am coming to the rescue with 7 hip flexor stretches you can do anywhere that will increase your hip mobility, loosen the muscles and take some pressure off the low back!
Hips Don’t Lie
If you didn’t already know, the hip flexor muscle actually originates in the front of the femur (upper leg bone), travels through the pelvis and either attaches at the back of the hip (iliacus) or the spine just under the last rib (psoas). These two muscles make up the hip flexor and is the muscle that helps to pick your leg up to step (hip flexion). But because this muscle attaches both at the front and the back, it can cause a lot of problems if it loses mobility. And don’t feel bad, a lot of people find this muscle to be tight, and weak, just because of the natural of life. Not many people are out there working their hip flexors to make sure they stay strong, so let’s do our part and at least make sure they are limber!
When we are sitting for too long, it puts the hip flexor muscle in a shortened position for an extended period of time. After awhile, that muscle is going to have a hard time actually fully lengthening again because it is so used to be shortened. The hip flexor not only causes us to then have limited hip motion and maybe an anterior pelvic tilt. This happens when the hip is pulled forward, causing an arch in the low back and a “stuck out” belly. This anterior pelvic tilt can cause more poor posture issues but it can also inhibit us from properly engaging our butt cheeks (or glutes in the scientific world). This further exacerbates the problem because then our hip flexors also become overactive. And if we have overactive hip flexors and weak glutes…..we have low back pain.
So, let us nip the problem in the butt (ah ha, get it?) and get to stretching out those hip flexors!
Hip Flexor Stretches
1: Pigeon Stretch
• Sit on the floor with 1 leg bent in front and the other straight back.
• Rotate your hips so you are sitting evenly on them, no butt cheeks/hips on the floor.
• If you can, you can place your elbows on the floor in front of you to get a deeper stretch, otherwise you can stay upright. You should feel a stretch in the glute of the bent leg, and the hip flexor of the straight leg.
• Make sure the back leg is flat and the top of the foot is on the floor – this will make sure the hip flexor is fully relaxed.
2: Couch Stretch
• Find something you can prop your foot up on – could be a chair, bench, wall…couch…
• Place one foot back against the prop so that the top of your foot is touching it. Make sure your knee is as close the wall as you can get it, while maintaining an upright position. The closer to the wall, the more advanced/difficult the stretch will be.
• Place the other foot on the floor in a 1/2 kneeling position. Make sure you keep the weight in the heel here, and you are sitting back into the back leg/knee.
• Put hands overhead for a deeper stretch. This is going to open up the hip flexor, and the quadricep as well.
• If you need assistance, you can use a a broom stick to place on the floor and hold onto to take some of the pressure/weight off of the stretch.
3. Runners Stretch
• Get into a 1/2 kneeling position with a wider stance than normal.
• Place your hands on the floor inside your front knee.
• Pick up your back knee off the ground so you are on only your toe. Try to relax the hip flexor muscle and sink into the hip of the straight leg for a deeper stretch.
4. 90/90 Stretch
• Get in a seated position with one leg bent in front and one leg bent behind.
• Sit up tall and rock back and forth on hips. You can move forward/backward or side/side, just trying to get movement through the hips in different planes of motion.
• The key here is to make sure the back leg is bent far enough behind that you feel a pull/stretch in that hip flexor.
5. Frog Stretch
• Sit up tall with the bottoms of your feet together, like a butterfly position. You can either stay in this position to help open up the adductors (inner thighs) or you can get into a deeper stretch.
• Otherwise transition onto your back, keeping your feet together and arms out to a T. Let the hips fall as the may and just relax.
• Breathe into the stretch and try to get a the legs to fall a little more as time passes.
6. Scorpion Stretch
• Lay flat on your stomach with your arms out to a T. Make sure your head is neutral, aka your forehead on the floor.
• Take one foot and bring it over the back of the other and try to touch the ground on the other side. This is going to not only open up the hip flexor, but also get some mobility into the spine as well. Typically when I do this, my back adjusts itself a few times, so be prepared for that.
• Make sure you keep your head neutral and alternate sides.
• You can either hold the stretch on one side before switching, or you can do more of a mobility movement and just swing your legs from side to side, alternating quickly.
7. 1/2 Kneeling Stretch with Rotation
• Get into a 1/2 kneeling position. One knee on the floor and one foot on the floor.
• Tilt your hips under so that your butt is tucked, and lean forward into that front leg a bit.
• Place your hands straight overhead and then rotate over the front leg.
• This one is not only going to open the hip flexor through the base, but also up into your back and obliques as well.
How Long Should you Hold Hip Flexor Stretches
Trainers and coaches are going to tell you time and time again that you need to be stretching. But no one really tells you how long or how often. My recommendation is holding each stretch for anywhere between 30 to 60 seconds on each side. This gives you time to really sink deep into the stretch, and to release the muscles around it. I will say, it is totally necessary to try to be present when you are stretching. The mind is powerful, and when you make that connection with the muscle you are trying to relax, it can really help! I also recommend doing these stretches at least 3 times a week, but more if possible. The more you do it, the quicker you will gain mobility and the quicker your low back pain will start to subside!
You will start to see over time of doing these exercises that muscles are looser, and you are able to move better without aches and pains. Oh the power of stretching. I do encourage you, along with stretching and mobility, that you get your movement in daily. 30 minutes of movement, every single day. This can be going for a walk, getting a workout in, cleaning the house. Whatever that looks like for you. But the more you move, the more you are going to strengthen your muscles and in turn, increase mobility. Movement is medicine, both for the mind and the body!
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