Stretches for Tight Hips

Strong but flexible hip flexors are essential to helping you move more easily in almost every activity you do.

You may not have even heard of the psoas muscle, but you’d be surprised how much you use it throughout the day, especially during workouts. The psoas is a long, spindly tissue that runs from your lower spine to your pelvis, and is part of the hip flexor group.

“Any time you lift your knee, your psoas muscle will contract. Whether you’re going up and down stairs, walking, or running, that strength is coming from the psoas,” says Elizabeth Matzkin, M.D., an assistant professor of orthopedic surgery at Harvard Medical School.


Exercises that make the psoas more susceptible to injury include running, snatches, and squats. In addition, going from completely stationary to an intense workout could also do more harm than good. “This is because your hip flexor and psoas muscles become shortened and tight from sitting. If you don’t warm up properly and stretch before working out you’re more likely to become injured,” says Matzkin.

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“If the psoas is tight or strained you will feel it in you hip or lower back,” says Matzkin. You’ll want to pay close attention to these areas if you think your hip flexor is injured. “You will feel discomfort in the front of your hip and your hip crease. You may also experience hip impingement and lower-back pain,” says physical therapist David Reavy, founder of React Physical Therapy in Chicago.


What may begin as a minor ache could easily snowball into a more serious setback, says Reavy. Left untreated, an injury like a psoas sprain or strain can lead to herniated disks, facet-joint syndrome, chronic poor posture, and lower-back or neck pain. “If your psoas hurts and you’re not using it the right way, you may start to overcompensate with other muscle groups and throw off your lower back, hamstrings, and glutes,” says Matzkin. This can put you on the sidelines for much longer than expected.


The first line of treatments include rest, ice, anti-inflammatory, and stretching followed by strengthening, notes Matzkin. One good rehab move is a hip flexor/psoas release using a lacrosse ball, adds Reavy. (See illustration, right.) “If there is a muscle strain along the hip, be careful to put the ball above or below the area of injury, but not on the point itself,” he says.

1.5-6: Months of recovery time you should estimate, depending on the severity of the psoas injury and
the sport you’re trying to get back to.


Focus on stretching as part of recovery, says Matzkin, so you can start to heal a sore psoas. (See four good options, right.) Avoid running hills when first returning to physical activity, since they can aggravate the injury more than flat surfaces. Matzkin also suggests getting up and walking around for even just a few minutes every hour to help avoid shortening/tightening of the psoas when sitting for extended periods of time. Finally, “make a conscious effort to stand with good posture to allow your posterior chain to work properly,” says Reavy.

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