Addressing Tight Hip-flexors: The Hidden Muscles

Written by:  Alex Janis, CPT at Prescription Fitness (CLE, Ohio)

When you think of tight hip-flexors, people will tend to point to running and lack of stretching as root causes for the pain you are experiencing.  However, your hip flexor pain may actually be stemming from what we do for the majority of our day: sitting.  Let me explain.  Sitting in a chair puts our hips into a non-natural position for extended periods of time (our ancestors squatted around cave fires, they did not relax on the couch).  In this seated position, the pelvic bones shift forward, known as anterior pelvic tilt.  As the pelvis tilts forward the torso will follow.  Because it is not biomechanically advantageous to have our chest leaned so far forward, we compensate by contracting the muscles of the lumbar spine, resulting in pulling the chest back into upright position but also causing excessive flexion curvature in the lower back.  Once this has occurred, the lumbar muscles take on the vast majority of the load placed on the torso, resulting in stretched, weakened abdominal muscles.  In order to assist the lower back for the lack of abdominal strength, very deep muscles near the groin called the iliacus muscle and psoas muscle (which converge to form the iliopsoas group) become stressed and are tightened. A primary action of the iliopsoas group is to flex the hip, so the reason you are experiencing “tight hip” flexors may very well be caused by excessive sitting.  In the picture below it is we can see where the iliopsoas group originates on the lumbar spine and inserts on the femur of the leg.  Significant tightness to this muscle limits the ability to raise the leg off the ground and also inhibits some leg rotation.

Fortunately there is a simple solution to alleviate this pain by repositioning the hip into posterior tilt.

  1. Kneel on the ground into this lunge position
  2. When the right knee is on the ground, try to squeeze the right gluteus muscle
  3. As you squeeze the gluteus muscle, imagine you are tucking your tail bone under your body
  4. DO NOT lean forward in this stretch, the only movement should come from the posterior rotation of the pelvis.
  5. Hold this stretch for 20 seconds, and repeat 3 times for a total of 60 seconds
  6. Repeat this process for the left side of the body as well


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