Myth Busting: ‘My Hip Flexors are SO tight!’
Time and time again in the clinic, I hear people complain of tight hip flexors. Usually the result of a well-meaning comment from a trainer, masseuse or coach – and commonly blamed for anterior hip pain. First things first, let’s talk about the ‘hip flexor’ and get some background on this mischievous character.
When using the term ‘hip flexor’ we are really lumping a bunch of different muscles in together with one another, and they each have different functions. In total your major hip flexors include the Iliopsoas, the Rectus Femoris, and the Tensor Fascia Latae but there are also a number of other smaller muscles that in different positions, will also flex the hip. So the proclamation of having a ‘tight hip flexor’ is a bit of a misnomer. Each major hip flexor has a different attachment point and two out of the three cross over other joints (multi-articulate muscles) which means that if there is a hip flexor muscle that needs lengthening, we need to be more specific.
In my experience, it is very rare that anyone has truly short hip flexor muscles. Most of the time, the feeling of ‘tightness’ in an area is usually a sign of an overloaded tissue that is crying out for some help. This can be muscle, ligament or joint related. In this instance, ‘tight hip flexor’ is most often associated with a problem with the hip joint itself – not the overlying Iliopsoas muscle. We also commonly hear the same complaints of tightness in the upper trapezius muscles – usually a result of an overload of the upper back and neck muscles (levator scapulae most often), or referred pain coming from the neck.
In the case of these pesky ‘tight hip flexors’, we can very quickly assess and rule out whether you do really have short hip flexor muscles that require some lengthening exercises, or whether there is something else driving your discomfort. The good news is, once we are able to identify your main issue, it is usually a case of modifying activity and addressing the factors that are causing your discomfort in order to get you on the path to fighting fit. This may entail modifying your day to day activities, targeted strength training to address deficits, or specific mobility and warm up drills prior to activity.
What’s the big deal if I say ‘tight hip flexors’?
The problem with using the term is it prompts the person to stretch through the hip joint and this may actually be part of the reason that the discomfort is being persistent or worsening. An angry hip joint doesn’t want to be forced into end of range positions for long periods of time.
The hip flexor muscle group gets blamed for a lot nowadays – I think it’s time that we put the myth to rest and move to pardon these poor overworked muscles that should be innocent until proven guilty!
If you have ‘hip flexor tightness’, come in for a thorough assessment and we’ll identify the real issue at the crux of your hip discomfort.