Your Personal PT, Rachel Tavel, is a Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) and Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS), so she knows how to get your body back on track when it’s out of line. In this weekly series, she gives you tips on how to feel better, get stronger, and train smarter.
You’re probably sitting down right now. If you’ve been there for more than an hour, or you spend most of your day in a seated position, you most likely have tight hips. And there’s nothing sexy about tight hips.
By “tight hips,” I mean, more specifically, tight psoas muscles. The psoas (pronounced “so-ahs”) are a prime hip flexor. Together with the iliacus, rectus femoris, and sartorius muscles, the psoas cross the front of the hip joint and can lift the thigh forward or up if seated, while also affecting pelvic alignment. But they aren’t the only muscles that surround and move the hips.
The hip joint is a ball and socket joint comprised of the round, convex head of the femur (top portion) and a shallow, concave portion of the pelvis known as the acetabulum. This ball and socket structure allows the hip joint to be one of the most mobile in the body (on a good day). The joint allows the thigh bone to move in many directions, making it possible to leap forward, sit cross-legged on the floor, and put you in all sorts of positions required for your workout.
While tightness in the hips can occur in any of the muscles surrounding the joint, the psoas are often the culprit when you’ve been sitting for extended periods of time. Symptoms of psoas tightness can include stiffness at the front of the hip when you stand up or walk, or you may feel tension in the lower back, a “pinching” sensation at the front of the hips with open chain leg movements or squats, or other aches and pains above and below the hip joint.
Not moving in all of the ways your hips are meant to move can lead to tightness in the surrounding musculature and a lack of lubrication within the joint. You’ll want to stretch and move the hips to loosen up tight psoas and avoid larger aches and pains down the line.
To stretch the psoas, a hip flexor, you’re going to need to create extension at the hip. Do this by kneeling on one knee. From this position, lean forward towards the front leg without allowing the knee to pass the toes.
To prevent an arch in your back from forming, perform a small posterior pelvic tilt to bring the pubic bone forward and flatten your lower back. From her, reach the arm on the same side as the back leg up and over, crossing above your head to the opposite side. This will further lengthen the side of your hip so that you stretch the psoas both from the distal and proximal attachment points.
While it might seem counterintuitive, when a muscle is tight it may also be weak due to lack of use. Strengthen the psoas by performing some high hip flexion exercises. To do these without resistance, begin in a standing position with your foot on a surface that allows your hip to be flexed at 90 degrees. Gently lift the leg off the step and hold for 5 seconds, then put back down. Repeat this for 2 to 3 sets of 10 on each side.
If you want to try a resisted hip flexion exercises, find a resistance band loop. Lie on your back with resistance band looped around both feet and feet up against the wall and legs straight. Repeatedly bring one knee towards your chest against the resistance while stabilizing with the opposite foot. Repeat 2 sets of 10 reps on each side.
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