Why are my hips so dang stiff? I’ve been stretching my hip flexors and hamstrings for YEARS but haven’t been able to get anywhere. How can I make this pain and stiffness go away?
These are questions we hear quite often at thrive and the answer(s) to these questions lies in the anatomy of the hips. Let’s start with the hip flexors, a common area of pain and stiffness for active and inactive people.
The hip flexors are a group of muscles (some longer than others) that assist in raising the leg and thigh forward (think during walking, running, going up stairs, etc.). Some of the hip flexors start in the spine (i.e. the psoas major) and some of them start closer to your pelvis (i.e. iliacus). If these muscles are “tight” not only can they make your hips feel stiff, but due to the bones they attach to, they can also cause your pelvis and spine to get pulled forward (you may have heard the term “sway back” or “excessive lordosis”).
To stretch these muscles people will often do stretches like the couch stretch (look this up) or a standing hip flexor stretch where you stand in an upright position in a split stance with one leg in front of the other, trying to stretch the front part of your back leg. Some people will also roll a lacrosse ball or softball across those “tight” muscles. However, even after trying those stretches and “smashes” the problem seems to keep lingering on!
Stretching and “smashing” muscles are just fine, and in a lot of cases are very useful. However, doing JUST those exercises may not be helping to get rid of the actual problem, it may just be providing short term relief. That is because “tight” muscles are usually an indicator of a weak muscles. Your body tries to protect a particular joint (in this case your back and hips) by increasing muscle tension, which is helpful in the short term when there is an actual injury but it is detrimental in the long term.
In order to “trick” your body into gaining range of motion, you really need to be STRENGTHENING that muscle group. Then your body/brain will gradually start to let go of that muscle tension knowing that it is ok to go to the true end of range of motion. This can take time but if you are consistent and intention with your specific strengthening exercises it can be very powerful.
In addition to strengthening the hip flexors we must also strengthen the DEEP ROTATORS of the hip (see below). As you can see, these muscles are not big, they are not meant to move heavy weight, however, they are meant to stabilize that ball and socket joint. They must be constantly firing to center that ball and socket joint so that it can move as freely as it can throughout a full range of motion.
Now, there are anatomical differences (some people have hips that angle backwards, some people have deeper or shallower hip sockets, etc.) that will impact your ability to gain range of motion but regardless, working on hip stability can drastically increase your mobility and decrease overall muscle tension and pain in the hip joint.
If you need any guidance on how to get started with painful or stiff hips or just improve overall mobility give us a call or come meet us in person!
Thanks for reading!