Hi my fellow wellness and fitness addicts!
As you know, I’ve struggled with my right hip since what feels like forever so when Marcus came to me with a post idea all about tight hip flexors and how they can impact the body I knew we had to team up. He’s the ying to my yang.
Every part of your body is deeply interconnected and if you have an issue with your hip you’ll see it play out in other areas of your body too. If you’re one of my hip chicks out there who have hip issues too or just someone who wants to learn more about your hip flexors keep reading! I know you’re going to love, love, love this as much as me!
*This is not medical advice. This is for educational purposes only.*
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How Tight Hip Flexors Can Cause Back Pain And Ruin Your Posture
What do tight hips and back pain have in common you might ask?
And if you are asking, then know that you are in the right place!
One could think that because the hips are part of the lower body they can’t cause any issues for the back (upper body).
In truth, your tight hips can cause issues for your back and are perhaps more likely to do so than you think because 1) the hips have an important role in stabilizing the back and 2) can affect the curvature of the spine.
So, if you often experience discomfort or pain in the back then you should pay attention to what is going on with your hips. Because unless you are very special and live a life that does not include a lot of sitting you probably have somewhat tight hips.
Below you can learn much more about all this, but first I want you to have a better idea of the topic by briefly covering how you can think about your different body parts in terms of affecting each other.
The Interconnectedness Of Your Anatomy
Yes, “interconnectedness” is a word and I think it sounds pretty cool.
While it is, of course, possible to isolate movements of certain muscles and joints, like you do with isolation exercises such as a biceps curl or triceps extension, I would argue it rarely happens unless you use conscious effort to do so.
In other words, your muscles, tendons, joints want to work together. They are all part of a closed system (your body) and they are interconnected and co-dependent.
So, poor movement patterns or tight muscles and tendons can affect your body in other areas. Potentially all the way from bottom to top or throughout the whole kinetic chain as it is sometimes referred to.
You can imagine a tug-of-war. Pulling on one side will affect the next muscle/opposing muscle.
Here is an example illustrating how one little problem can affect your body all the way from the bottom to the top. The example was inspired by physical therapist and strength coach Mike Reinold. You can check out his site here which is an awesome resource on this topic.
On one happy and eventful evening Bob banged his toe really hard. While it did hurt a lot and the soreness took many weeks to wear off he did not give it much attention because after all, it is just a toe.
What he did not realize was the chain reaction it started…
- To avoid putting pressure on that sore toe he had to limp slightly
- A couple of weeks of limping lead to small changes in the way he walked
- This way of walking created a lot of tightness in the hip flexors rotating the hip forwards and downwards
- The forward rotated hip affected the curvature of his spine negatively
- The excess curvature of the spine encouraged his shoulders and head to round/lean forwards to stabilize and compensate for the curvature below
- The rounded shoulders and forward head posture created a sore and tight trapezius muscle (the neck).
A tight trapezius can be felt as a sore neck and can even cause headaches.
If you think this example is very unlikely to happen, then you are right. But I believe the example makes the point easier to understand and by the way is not impossible.
What is more likely is for an issue to occur 1 or 2 levels above “in the chain”.
A useful analogy could be the ripple effect. The farther away from the originating area the less likely it is to cause an issue (as a rule of thumb).
What Does Tight Hips Really Mean?
Anatomically speaking, your hips are made up of a lot of different muscles that each have important roles for the function of the hip.
Your hips are highly mobile and do a lot of things. Basically, having good strong and flexible hips ensure you can move around in your daily life with ease.
But if I have to do be more specific, the hip muscles connect your upper body to the lower body and they are responsible for stabilizing your pelvis and spine. The hip muscles allow you to move your legs from side to side, kick, jump or pedal, bend your knees when you sit or run and swivel your hips.
So when you hear people talk about tight hips it can be difficult to know exactly what they are referring to.
However, because of the many hours we sit down every day is usually the reason why we have tight hips, the tightness will for most people be dominant in the hip flexors.
E.g. the groin, upper thigh, pelvis, and psoas.
These muscles suffer and are easy to become both tight and weak from sitting down and hunching over.
Often the hip muscles are divided into these four groups:
- Hip flexors
- Hip extensors
- Hip rotators and abductors
- Hip adductors
If you want to check out the long list of muscles in the hips, then Wikipedia is a good place.
[image credits to Beth Ohara]
How To Find Out If You Have Tight Hip Flexors
A quick look in the mirror standing from the side might be enough for some people to detect whether they are likely to have tight hip flexors.
If you see your pelvis tilting forward and the butt tucking upwards that is a good indication.
Depending on your clothes you might also refer to the angle of the top of pants/underwear. If the angle is clearly declined it could also be an indication.
Another method you can use is the one known as the Thomas test.
To do the Thomas test, simply follow these three steps:
- Lie down on the back on a table or your bed. The legs should be hanging down at the knees.
- Grab one leg around the knee and pull it towards the chest like you are doing
- If you feel or see the other leg is raising a little bit, then you probably have tight hip flexors.
How Does Tight Hip Flexors Lead To Back Pain?
The hip flexors along with the muscles on the back portion of your thighs known as hamstrings play an important role in stabilizing your whole back.
Any tightness or weakness can have an influence on the curvature of the spine particularly in the lower back due to its proximity.
Maintaining a poor curvature of the spine can result in an uneven distribution of the tension or pressure on your vertebral discs.
Over time, this can potentially lead to anything from mild discomfort to debilitating lower back pain restricting you in your daily life.
But it should be said that while lower back pain is often mentioned as a symptom of tight hip flexors and anterior pelvic tilt (more on this below) there is actually very little evidence to prove it.
Evidence or not, you should still at least have in mind that poor posture especially when it is affecting your spine can put you at an increased risk of injury.
E.g. if you were to fall down, bump into something or perform heavy lifts.
Other Common Pains From Tight Hip Flexors
Like the lower back, muscles and joints below the hips are also easily affected.
When the one or more muscles in the hips flexors are tight they pull the next one in line creating issues for opposing muscles or other joints.
This can affect both your knees and ankles and can cause them unnecessary stress.
It might be a contributing factor if you have pain in the knees and ankles e.g. after running.
Yoga can be a great way to get strong and flexible hips
What About Posture And Tight Hip Flexors?
Any kind of tightness in the hips could affect your posture. How big an effect and whether it is problematic of course depends on the circumstances.
Tight hips flexors caused by sitting down a lot is often the reason for what is known as “anterior pelvic tilt” which by the way is very common.
Your pelvis tilts forward and your butt tucks upwards.
Depending on the severity this can make your belly protrude forwards whenever you are in a relaxed position and can actually make you appear fatter.
Also with the butt tucking upwards, it might appear bigger.
Neither of these are associated with an aesthetically-looking posture.
Affecting The Upper Body
If you have a slouching or hunched-over posture you probably think about the muscles in the upper-body.
A common solution is to do various exercises to strengthen the muscles around the shoulder blades and stretching tight muscles.
This works well and I have actually written something about how to improve poor head posture and rounded shoulders using various exercises on my website.
But it might not be a complete solution since tight hip flexors and anterior pelvic can be a contributing factor to rounded shoulders and forward head posture.
Keep in mind that the upper body relies on the legs and hips to keep upright and with a correct posture.
If there is an excess curvature in one place, then the tendency is to distribute the weight of this another place which in this case could be the shoulders and head.
Perhaps this explanation makes it more clear:
Think about your spine as the letter “S”.
If the curvature of the S changes in the lower part an equal change happens in the upper part.
Similarly, rounded shoulders and a forward head posture could be a compensation for the curvature of the spine created by tight hip flexors and anterior pelvic tilt.
How To Deal With Tight Hip Flexors?
To fix it you obviously need to address the tightness in the hip flexors by stretching them.
But for a better solution, you will want to do various stretches and strengthening exercises for hips, butt, and hamstrings.
I encourage you to watch this video below. Two cool physiotherapists show a number of exercises you can do for your hip flexors, and if you have a weird sense of humor like me you will also be laughing.
If you need more stretches, you can check out this list of 7 stretches from healthline.com
You should also try to have small breaks from sitting down now and then. You could perhaps get up for 5 minutes every 1 hour and move around a bit.
You could also get a standing desk.
If you truly want strong and flexible hips you need to understand that because sitting down plays such a central role in our life, you more or less need to be stretching your hips on an ongoing basis.
So you need a stretching routine or you can practice yoga which I like.
Given the amount of work handled by the hips and how important they are for your whole body, you should pay attention to what is going there and try to remedy any issues.
The truth is that most of us have tight hip flexors because we sit down so much.
You can try to reduce the time you spend sitting down, but even with great efforts, it will most likely still be a big portion of your waking hours.
That is why actively doing something to relieve some of that tension is a good idea.
You don’t need crazy strong and flexible hips like a pole-dancer, but working them a bit on a continual basis could benefit you greatly and help you avoid pain.
Marcus runs the site Strengthery.com where he writes about weight training, weight loss, and other health-related topics. After injuring both his shoulders and realizing that his posture sucked, he became obsessed with learning everything he could about how to improve and maintain good posture and now likes to share what he learned.
That was a lot of valuable information right there, especially if you have hip issues. If you suffer from any kind of nagging pain issues please go see a PT or a chiropractor who can help to determine where the issue is stemming from. The knee pain you’ve been experiencing may actually be a hip joint that isn’t working correctly or that neck pain you have every day may be caused TMJ.
There is no reason you have to suffer and the continued use of a painful body part can lead to misalignment in the body and it continues on from there. Remember, here at Buddha Belly fitness is for the mind, body, and soul. Make sure you’re taking care of the body part of things!