Hip Flexors.. Are Tight Hips Holding you back?
How tight hips can hold you back…
Many people don’t realize that the root cause of some of their pain and other health issues might be tight hip flexors.
The impact the hips have on the whole body never occurred to me until I saw the effect tight hip flexors had on my own health and well-being after an injury and consequent surgical repair. Loss of use on the left leg, the body’s compensation to hold itself upright; it was mind-blowing how hard it was to come back from it physically, not to mention emotionally. It was then I understood the magnitude of the problem.
Tight or blocked hip flexors can contribute to the flowing problems:
Nagging joint pain, lower back or hips
Walking with discomfort
Hips locking up
Sluggishness in day to day life
Lack of energy for sports or physical activity
Surprising that one muscle can cause all this!!
Many people suffer from tight or locked hip flexors, especially those who sit for hours each day. It creates a phenomenon called stagnation. Blood actually pools and causes muscles & ligaments to retract a bit. In essence they atrophy enough to cause extreme discomfort. This discomfort spreads to other area, affecting them much like the strings on a marionette within the body.
Remember: everything flows through the hips.
They help support our weight, the center of gravity, supporting the strength & health of your body. Bridging between the upper body and lower body, sitting in the well of your hip and lower spine. Are you getting the visual now?
The psoas major muscle and the two iliopspas muscles play important functions in the body as they are nestled in the hips. It’s the only muscle that connects the upper and lower parts of the body. Attaching to the lower spine, moving through the pelvis, connecting to a tendon at the top of the femur. It also attaches to the diaphragm, so it’s connected to your breathing, and upon it sits major organs.
A properly functioning psoas muscle creates a neutral pelvic alignment, stabilizes the hips, supporting the lower spine and abdomen, supporting the organs in the pelvic and abdominal cavity, giving you great mobility and strength.
When it functions well it has the power to:
Help the body metabolize (burn fat)
Improve athletic performance
Improve energy levels
Help you sleep more comfortably ( a rested body is a healthier body)
Simply put, this muscle is the core of activity within the body. So, when it’s out of balance or if the psoas tightens, serious consequences can flow through the body.
Sitting or being in the same position for too long, known as stagnation, is the biggest culprit to this problem. Even if you are active in sports, you may still suffer from a tight psoas due to the amount of time you spend each day sitting in a chair or standing in one position too long.
Weakness, shortening and tightness develops in the muscle from stagnant positions, contributing to poor sleep, posture, even stress and tension.
Stagnation forces the hips to become stuck in a forward thrust position. Terrible for just the posture, right? Wait, it affects so much more. This leads to pulling on the lower back and decreased blood flow and circulation through the hips. This tightness results in physical discomfort, making it more difficult to fall asleep, more likely to have disrupted sleep, leaving you feeling rather unrested in the morning.
People working out to sculpt their bodies frequently wonder why their belly bulges still, even with all the workouts. This is due to a weak abdominal muscle???More sit ups & crunches?? Myth! The real cause is likely a tight psoas muscle, causing the lower back to curve, pushing out the stomach. When the psoas works properly, it pulls the abdomen back, tucking the tummy in, adding to the appearance of a strong flat stomach.
As the body’s “fight or flight” response muscle, the psoas is deeply connected to our natural survival instinct. It instantly tightens in moments of danger to either protect you or run, fueled by the release of adrenaline. However, if your psoas is constantly tight, it treats the body as if it’s in constant danger. This puts the body under constant stress, switching it to a fat storing mode, rather than an energy burning mode.
When the psoas is too tight, not only does the pulling affect the hip and lower back alignments, it increases the risk of lower lumbar herniated disks by pulling the lumbar portion of the spine forward. As a result, misaligning the upper body and resting it on the ischial tuberosity (sitting bones) rather than being properly distributed along the arch of the spine.
Ok, so you know you have tight hip flexors. Now the challenge is: what do you do?
There are simple static stretches and tennis ball stretches can give minor relief. Please consult a professional to make sure you’re doing them correctly. Improper form or lack of mindfulness in your body’s ability to stretch can cause further injury.
Understand, your psoas is deep inside your core, making it difficult to access. It’s a hard muscle to train let alone find. Attacking the muscle from more than one angle, more than one kind of stretching.
Activating muscles around a joint to decrease the pressure on the joint is one technique.
Dynamic Stretching, is activating the muscle around the joint through full range of motion in a progressive manner. Slow & steady wins the race here. Progressive movement is the key. Start out slow, going to the first point of resistance. You need not go further, your body will begin to adjust, loosen and allow further as it relaxes, to push it to the point of pain only sets you up for injury. Uncomfortable is the key word here, with gentle movement it will become comfortable. This leads to a greater range of motion around the joint, increasing the circulation. Using a yoga band to help stretch the legs, lower back and glutes will help keep a controlled posture/form. This will help train those muscles as well as keep them limber. Stretching the thighs is equally important to help relieve pressure.
Core Stability Exercises
Targeting these exercises in all aspects so they have beneficial activation, leads to increased circulation, and protection of the organs & decrease of joint pressure. Keep in mind, you shouldn’t just do a bunch of sit ups & crunches. This targets just the front, not the back. Remember the body craves balance. If you work the left, work the right; same goes for the front and back. In working these muscles it’s important to loosen up, stretch here is the key, not benching a lot of weight to bulk up. Long, lean slow stretches, use the body as it’s own resistance and weight. The older we get the more important stretching becomes, more so that lifting the weights. Light weights can have their benefit once you begin the training, but never forget stretch first and last.
Mobility exercises help the joint to move more freely, they aid in optimal function of that joint. Keep this in mind when focusing on a joint: how should it really move? What capacity? Start there.
This technique targets the tissues surrounding the fascia, loosening and lengthening it, thus providing the necessary strength to help support the body. Think controlled side stretches for your upper body, while reaching off the toes.
Reflexology, Massage, trigger Point Massage Release
These are methods highly effective in partnering with your therapeutic stretching and workouts to help maintain and fight the muscles and ligaments from retightening. Targeting the hard to reach ligaments and muscles, gently stretching them with a variety of techniques releases pressure and allows you to stretch with less resistance, making your time spent at home working out more effective.
The use of the above mentioned techniques can be combined with natural essential oils and balms to alleviate pain and inflammation. Sound wave therapy with Tuning Forks also send a light yet deep vibration along nerves, ligaments, tendons and muscles relaxing overly tight and guarded fixtures, allowing a better manipulation and release from the therapist or practioner.
The Psoas is so interconnected within the body, think of it as the master strings on a marionette for the human body. Take care of this and much will follow or be taken care of at the same time, creating a whole and healthier you.
Jana Parrelli is a Master Reflexologist, Reiki Practioner, Herbalist & Ayruvedic Nutrional Coach; owner of terra Blanca Wellness Spa, LLC in Alamogordo, NM. Since 2017 she sees her clients find health & wellness through natural practices.