Just because your hip flexor region feels sore doesn’t necessarily mean the muscles there are tight — in fact, they might need strengthening. This is where that sports science debate we mentioned earlier comes into play. It’s important to identify whether you’re tight or if the muscles are weak. Again, the Thomas Test will help you identify if you’re maybe stretching something that actually needs strengthening.
Prolonged sitting and activities like running or cycling can lead to tight hip flexor muscles and a variety of skeletal imbalances. Think: if you only cycle for exercise, certain muscles in your legs will get stronger (in a lot of cases you overwork these muscles) yet your core and outer hip muscles might get weaker from lack of engagement. So what? Well, these muscle imbalances often lead to skeletal imbalances and injuries down the line. If you have particularly tight hip flexors, your body will start to create an anterior pull on the pelvis (anterior pelvic tilt). You can identify an anterior pelvic tilt if your belly protrudes slightly in the front while your butt sticks out in the back (what some people refer to as “duck butt”).
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Stretching is your next move, but not just any stretches. “Before your workout, you want to go for dynamic stretches, or stretches that put the joint through a full range of motion,” says Lefkowith. Moves like squats and lunges will get your muscles fired up (especially if you focus on squeezing your butt at the top of those squats), says Lefkowith.
Two types of strength-training moves that may benefit the lower back are flexion and extension exercises. In flexion exercises, you bend forward to stretch the muscles of the back and hips. In extension exercises, you bend backward to develop the muscles that support the spine. One example is doing leg lifts while lying on your stomach. Depending on the cause of your back pain, there are some exercises you should not do. If you have back pain, make sure to talk to your doctor about what exercises are safe for you.
Treatment for greater trochanteric bursitis includes stretching and strengthening your IT band, hip abductors, and gluteal muscles, all while avoiding running on banked surfaces. Applying ice to the painful area for 15 minutes, three to four times per day can help, too. A cortisone injection may be beneficial if your injury is severe. Worsening pain should raise suspicion for a stress fracture, in which case you should see your doctor right away.
These exercises can be done three to five times per week; be sure to build in a rest day here or there to allow your hip muscles to recover. Working to strengthen your knees and ankles can be done as well to be sure you completely work all muscles groups of your lower extremities. Remember, your ankle and knee muscles help control the position of your hips, just as your hip muscles control the position of your knees and ankles. They all work together in a kinetic chain.
For example, your quadriceps muscles are a group of four that are located at the front of the thigh; one of the group members, the rectus femoris flexes the hip, which brings your lower extremity (thigh, lower leg, and foot) forward, in front of you. On the other hand, your hamstring muscles are located at the back of the thigh. When they contract, they extend the lower extremity, bringing it behind you.
If you have hip arthritis, work on building up the muscles in your outer thigh for added support. Lie on your pain-free side and lift the leg with arthritis up about six inches, hold for two or three seconds, and lower it again, Humphrey says. Start with one set of 10 repetitions and build up to three sets. Repeat on the other side unless it is too painful. This exercise can aggravate your symptoms if you have hip pain from bursitis.
If you’re worried you’re headed toward a surgeon’s office, there might be hope. According to the Arthritis Foundation, the best way to avoid hip replacement surgery is to get active in an exercise program. In a study, people who participated in an exercise program for 12 weeks were 44 percent less likely to need joint-replacement surgery six years later than those who did not exercise.
Lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor. Tighten the muscles in your buttocks, then lift your hips off the ground and hold for about five seconds before slowly lowering yourself back down. Be sure to breathe throughout the exercise. As with the first exercise, you can work up to doing 30 repetitions, resting for a few seconds (or longer) between each. “If you start to get tired, stop and rest for a couple of minutes,” Pariser says.
Treatment options include physical therapy, back exercises, weight reduction, steroid injections (epidural steroids), nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications, rehabilitation and limited activity. All of these treatment options are aimed at relieving the inflammation in the back and irritation of nerve roots. Physicians usually recommend four to six weeks of conservative therapy before considering surgery.