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When it comes to tight hip flexors, there are a few common culprits. The first is sitting for long periods of time. It’s important to note that regardless of whether you are hunched over or upright with perfect posture, if you sit all day, your hip flexors will shorten. The second cause of tight hips is standing with an anterior pelvic tilt, in which the top front of the pelvis drops forward; this shortens both the hip flexors and lumbar muscles. Over time this can lead to compression of spinal tissues and develop into osteoarthritis of the facet joints.
When we talk about hip flexors, multiple muscles are involved, and they play a major role in balancing the pelvis over the legs. For our purposes, the principle muscles are the psoas major and the iliacus (together called the iliopsoas), the rectus femoris (part of the quadriceps muscle group), and the sartorius. There are a number of simple actions that utilize these different muscle groups and can help improve balance between the legs, pelvis, and back. Here are a few quick and easy ways to give your hip flexors some relief throughout the day.
Why: Reverse the effects of constant pelvic flexion.
Turn to the right side on your chair and hold on to the chair back with your right hand. Keeping the right sit bone and thigh firmly grounded on the seat, drop the left knee while taking the left foot back to stretch the front of your thigh and hip. For a deeper stretch, take the left foot further back. Make sure to avoid an anterior pelvic tilt while doing this by supporting the lower abdomen and lengthening through the sit bones. Remain in the pose for 5-10 breaths and switch sides.
Helpful hint: Contracting a muscle can lead to a deeper release. If you want to experiment, press the back foot firmly into the floor, which will contract the quads. You might find that, upon releasing the pressure, you have a little more range in the rectus femoris. To release the hip flexors a little more, pretend to pull the back foot and the front foot toward each other, resisting them against the floor and contracting the muscles you want to release. Hold the contractions for about 5 seconds. When you cease that action, you may find that you have a little more freedom in the hip flexors and can move your back foot further behind you. Then you can repeat these actions at the new range of motion.
Why: This will add freedom to your stride, whether walking or running.
Bend your knee and place the foot on a low wall, study chair, or any low stable surface. Keeping the back leg straight, move the trunk forward to extend the hip. Again, avoid anterior pelvic tilt by firming the lower abdomen and lengthening through the sit bones without flattening the lumbar curve. While this is primarily a release for the front hip and inner groin, depending on your range of motion, you may also feel this in the front thigh. Hold for 5-10 breaths and switch sides.
Why: This is a restful way to reverse the effects of anterior pelvic tilt.
Lie on your mat, bend your knees, and slip a block under your pelvis. Start on the lowest height.
Take hold of the sides of the mat and, pulling outwards, roll your shoulders underneath you as if you were doing Bridge Pose. Reach the breastbone away from the hips as you straighten your legs hip-width apart. If this produces any stress in the lower back, widen the feet or put the pelvis on a folded blanket. Bring your attention to the area just above the pubic bone and draw in, as though you are “zipping up” the pubic bone. This creates strong lower-abdominal support for the lower back while allowing for an easy breath and avoiding hip flexion. Avoid gripping the ribs or flattening the lower back. To help release tension in the lower back, you can also belt the legs and press outward into the belt. As you become more comfortable in the pose, you can increase the height of the block. Hold for 10-15 breaths.
Join Alison for her upcoming online course, Yoga for Back Health. You will explore different conditions of the spine as well as the asana practices that will help reduce pain and discomfort. Learn more and sign up today!