Whether you work at a desk all day or drive a vehicle, if your job requires sitting, you’re at risk for hip pain caused by tight hip flexors. Who knew sitting could cause an overuse injury?

At the other end of the activity spectrum, if you’re an avid runner or cyclist, you’re also at risk.

Both sitting and repetitive leg actions can shorten and tighten the hip flexors. Combine these activities with weak core and thigh muscles, and you have a recipe for pain and stiffness.

What are hip flexors?

The hip flexors are the muscles in the front of your thigh connecting your leg to your pelvis and your spine. These powerful muscles allow you to bend and flex at the hip. They are engaged when you pull your knee to your chest, sit down, or lift your leg. Walking, pedaling a bike, running, and a variety of other feats use these heavy-duty muscles.

There are five of these muscles on each side of the body.Illustration of hip muscles

  • Psoas Muscle
  • Iliacus Muscle
  • Rectus Femoris Muscle
  • Tensor Fasciae Latae
  • Sartorius Muscle

Misalignment of one of these flexor muscles can cause pain and mobility issues.

What causes tight hip flexors?

Well, there are many theories. We’ve already mentioned some of them:

  • Sitting
  • Exercises that include repeatedly using the same muscles
  • Activities, like biking and running, that move the legs and hips in the same repetitive motions
  • Muscle weakness or hip instability

As medical researchers continue to evaluate their assumptions, we know tight hip flexors can limit mobility and increase pain.

What are the symptoms of tight hip flexors?

The most common symptoms of tight hip flexors are hip pain and limited mobility. Tight hip flexors can also cause:

  • Pain when lying down
  • Limited movement
  • Inability to extend your leg behind you
  • Pain when sitting or rising from a seated position
  • A pinching or snapping sensation in the hip during movement
  • Hip pain when you walk

Many times, symptoms appear as the body tries to compensate for the stiffened hip muscles.

How are tight hip flexors treated?

Whatever the cause, the treatment that seems to be the most helpful is stretching and strengthening the muscles deep in the hip.

These big muscles require big movements to make a difference. There are many exercises posted online by qualified medical professionals. You may be familiar with two of the most common stretches.

Hip Flexor Stretch

  1. Begin by standing with the feet shoulder-width apart.
  2. Place one foot two feet in front of the other.
  3. With knees slightly bent and hips straight ahead.
  4. Squeeze your core and the glute on your back leg.
  5. Tilt your hips forward to flatten your back and feel the stretch.
  6. Lean into the stretch as you lift the arm opposite the leading foot overhead, reaching toward the opposite wall.
  7. Hold for 15 seconds and then release.

You can do this stretch from a kneeling position.

Quad stretchExample of a standing quad stretch and a low-lunge quad stretch

  1. Stand with feet shoulder-distance apart.
  2. Engage your stomach muscles.
  3. Shift your weight to one foot.
  4. Bend the knee of the opposite leg, pointing your foot behind you.
  5. Grab your foot or ankle to guide your heel toward your glutes as you tighten the muscles of your bottom.
  6. You should feel this stretch in the front of your leg and in your hip.
  7. When you do this stretch for the first time, make sure there is something to hold on to for balance, so you don’t fall.

You can modify this stretch and perform it while kneeling. As always, if you feel pain, stop the exercise.

How can I prevent hip flexor pain?

There are some daily habits you can follow to prevent tight hip flexors. We’ve included a few below.

  • If you don’t exercise, start. Walking is a great first exercise. When you move, you increase the flow of oxygen-rich blood to your muscles and connective tissues. Activity helps your musculoskeletal system stay healthy.
  • Avoid repetitive leg-lifting exercises. Add variation to your workout to avoid using the same muscles day after day. Some people rotate workouts, working the legs and lower body on one day and the arms and upper body on the next. Then they finish out their week with a day of cardio, another to strengthen their core, and a third to stretch. This type of workout schedule will help avoid overusing your hip flexors.
  • Add a strength-training routine focusing on your core, glutes, and thigh muscles. These muscles help support your hip movement.
  • Avoid sitting for extended periods of time. Even if you work a desk job, set a timer to remind yourself to change positions at least once per hour. If you work at home, get up, and do some push-ups, burpees, or dance.
  • In the office, simply stand up at your desk for a few minutes. Walk to the restroom or visit the breakroom to get a glass of water. The change in position will keep your hip flexors supple, and the hydration will help, too.

If you experience hip pain that lasts longer than a week without improvement, or hip pain makes you limp, call your medical provider. You may have an underlying issue that needs care.

For expert orthopedic advice, contact Bone & Joint to see a sports medicine specialist or physical therapist. They have excellent knowledge of body mechanics and can help you regain your mobility so you can live life as pain-free as possible.