Many people and in particular, many horse riders and cyclists, moan about having tight hips. That makes sense, as spending a lot of time sitting means the hip flexors stay in a shortened position for longer than they should. Constricting the muscles in this way can make the hip flexors extremely tight, especially if the effects of sitting aren’t countered with hip stretches on a regular basis. Some people are just more prone to tightness in this area than others, whilst for others the tightness is caused by their lifestyle or chosen sport. But whether it’s an occasional twinge in the groin or something much worse, having tight hips can be a literal pain in the butt.
The major causes for tight hips are as follows:
- A sedentary lifestyle – excessive sitting causes the muscles to relax and deactivate. They become progressively weaker and shorter, causing a painful condition called adaptive shortening.
- Poor posture, anterior or posterior pelvic tilt, standing out of alignment or always sleeping on one side.
- Cyclists are particularly prone to tight hips as cycling causes similar muscle imbalances to being seated at a desk all day. Cycling also requires the legs to move in a repetitive motion, which can cause repetitive strain injuries.
- Horse Riders also sit for long periods of time and thus horse riding can cause similar problems. Those who ride wide horses may well find the situation worsened.
- Weakness in the core, the hip flexors and gluteal muscles as well as any unbalanced muscle development also leads to tightness in the hips.
Studies have shown that there is a direct correlation between having tight hip flexors, weak gluteal muscles, and lumbo-pelvic pain. Chronic tightness in the hips can also drag other muscles and joints out of alignment, including the lower back and the knees.
So how do you know if your hips are tight? Pain and discomfort from tight hips can be felt in the upper groin area. However you may also experience lower back pain, hamstring strains or have problems with your knees. So if you are having issues with your knees or lower back it could be down to your hips!
A simple way to assess flexibility of the hip flexor muscles is called the Thomas test:
- Lie on your back on the floor, a bench, or another stable, flat surface.
- Bring both knees to your chest.
- Hold your right knee against your chest.
- Straighten your left leg.
- Lower your left leg as far as possible.
- Repeat with the other leg.
Hip flexors are considered tight if either leg cannot completely lower to the surface you are lying on.
The good news is that there are plenty of good hip stretches that you can do to relieve discomfort, decrease tightness, and increase mobility in your hips. Keep in mind that the key to success is making this a daily practice. Choose one or two of the following hip openers to do each day this week, or try out one of the hip opener videos that include not only the following exercises but a myriad of others too, and follow them from start to finish for a really good 15 to 20-minute hip-opening routine.
Sit on your backside with your knees bent, thighs together with just your heels on the floor. Place your hands behind the hips to support yourself. Gently drop the knees from side-to-side, it is your hips that do the work. Allow yourself to walk forward on your butt. Repeat for ~30 seconds.
Start seated with your legs crossed and the right shin in front. Drape your body over your legs and stretch your arms forward along the floor. Walk both hands to the left side, breathing into your right-side hip; stay for 3 breaths (approx count of 30). Walk hands to the right side, breathing into your left-side hip; stay for 3 breaths. Roll the spine up, switch to the left shin in front and repeat.
This position stretches the piriformis muscle. Keeping this muscle flexible reduces your risk of developing piriformis syndrome (a sciatica-type pain). Start lying on your back with your legs extended. Hug your right knee to your chest, slightly across to your left chest and shoulder. Hold for 6 breaths (approx count of 60). Release the stretch and repeat for 3 rounds before switching sides.
Start lying on your back, in Relaxation Position with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor, a hip width apart. Cross the right ankle over the left thigh, and push down on the right knee with the fingers of your right hand. Hold for 3 breaths (approx count of 30). Repeat on the other side.
To increase the stretch: take hold of the back of the left thigh with both your hands and pull the whole thigh in towards your body, keeping the back of the pelvis heavy and relaxed into the floor.
Start in your lunge position, with the right foot back. Place the left hand flat to the floor and lift the right arm to the ceiling, rotating the spine so that the chest faces the inner thigh. Hold for 5 full breaths before releasing and switching legs.
Seated Figure 4
Start seated on your backside with the knees bent and feet flat on the floor, hip distance apart. Cross the right ankle over the left thigh, flexing the right foot to protect the knee. Lean your spine forward, bringing your chest closer to your legs. Hold for 3 breaths before switching sides.
Start kneeling with the thighs and knees a hip width apart and the spine upright. Place the hands on the low back and gently extend the spine, pressing the pelvis forward and stretching the front of the thighs. Hold for 3 breaths before resting. Repeat twice more.
To increase the difficulty: place the hands on the back of the heels. This is a difficult stretch, so only hold for 2 breaths before resting. Repeat twice more.
This stretch is also intense, so only participate if it feels right for your body. Start on all fours, bringing your knees as far apart as is comfortable. Keep the inner edge of your feet on the ground, with toes pointed outward. Slowly lower to your forearms, and move your body weight forward and back a couple of times. Finish by gently sitting the hips back into the stretch and holding for up to 6 breaths.