Does your job involve sitting for long periods of time? Have you been experiencing sharp or sudden pain in the hip, pelvis or groin area, and do the muscles along your upper leg regularly become sore, tender or cramp? You are likely suffering from tight hip flexors or tight hips as most people describe it.
“You are likely to have tight hips since sitting for long periods shortens the hips muscles,” says Abby Sitati, a fitness instructor at Momentum Fitness Gym in Westlands, Nairobi.
“The danger of having tight hip flexors is that it can be a root problem that contributes to lower back pain because of the impact that tightness has on the position of the pelvis and spine,” she adds.
Tight hips manifest when one is walking, climbing up the stairs, and after sitting. Also when lifting up your leg to your waist or chest, you’ll find that you have to arch your back to compensate for the distance your leg can’t move.
“Since the hips help us get through daily activities like bending to pick up things from the floor, it's important to keep them flexible and mobile,” she adds.
To know how tight your hips are, Kevin Shisia, a coach at Momentum Fitness says there are various mobility tests one can perform. He recommends lying flat on your back and bringing one knee to your chest.
"If your lower knee bends as you pull the other knee to your chest, it is a sign that your hip flexors are tight,” he says adding, “both hips can’t be tight to the same degree. One is more likely to be tighter than the other.”
To know which one is tighter, the following three tests can be done with a partner to help.
The lying figure-four test
“Lie flat on your back. With your left leg flat, put your right leg on your left knee. Measure the distance between the knee and the ground. Repeat on the other side. The knee that’s further above the ground is the tighter one,” Mr. Shisia says.
The internal rotation test
“Lie flat on your back and fold your leg to a 90-degree angle. With your leg relaxed, let your partner bring your lower leg and foot outwards and as far away from the body as you comfortably can. Note the distance the lower leg extends outwards. Repeat on the other leg. The shorter the distance, the tighter the hip,” the instructor explains.
The external rotation test
“Still lying flat on your back, fold your leg to be at a 90 degree angle. Once again, let your partner bring your lower leg and foot inwards across the body. Note the distance the lower leg extends inwards. Repeat on the other leg. The shorter the distance, the tighter the hip,” the fitness enthusiast for nine years says.
Stretches to loosen up tight hips
The key to flexible hips is to stretch consistently. Fluid in the joints keeps them healthy, mobile and loose.
The kneeling hip flexor stretch
This will help loosen the hip flexor.
Kneel on your right knee. Place your left foot firmly on the floor with your left knee at a 90-degree angle. Push your hip forward, maintaining a straight back. Hold the position for 30 seconds. Repeat 5 times on each leg.
The pigeon stretch
This is great for improving the hip flexors’ mobility. Begin with your hands and knees in a tabletop position. Fold your right leg and bring it forward such that your right ankle is in front of your left hip. Straighten your left leg behind you, making sure your left knee is straight and your toes are pointed.
Gently lower yourself to the ground, squaring your hips. Stay in this position for 10 seconds. To release yourself from this position, push on your hands, lift your hips, and move the legs back into your starting position. Repeat on the other side.
This stretch is also good for the back muscles. Begin with your elbows and knees on the floor. Have your knees bent at a 90 degree angle. Extend your knees as far apart as you can and keep your back straight. Lower your hips back and down horizontally supported by your arms. Hold this position for at least 60 seconds. Repeat 2-3 times.
Figure four seated stretch
Can be done even when in the office. Sit on a chair with your back straight. Place your right ankle on your left knee. Fold your torso forward until you feel a gentle, not painful, stretch. Hold for 60 seconds. Repeat on the other side. Repeat 2-3 times.
Dynamic hip swings
Hip swings warm up and stretch the hip muscles and the hip joint. Start by standing on your left leg. Swing the left leg forward and back for 30 seconds. Repeat with your left leg. You can also swing the leg side to side. Start with small swings that lead up to big swings.
To prevent pain caused by, or reduce your risk of tight hips, the fitness trainers recommend warming up properly before and stretching at the end of any workout consistently, and taking breaks if you sit for too long.
“Even before doing these stretches, do a small warm-up like walking around the office or matching on the spot for one minute,” Sitati says. “The warmth prepares the body for the range of motions as heat relaxes the muscles.”