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How to Release Tightness in the Hips, person running

How to Release Hip Tightness

Have you noticed tightness or limited mobility in your hips? 

Hip tightness is typically a build up of tension, and can be due to a variety of causes such as lack of hip mobility and flexibility, improper warm up/cool down, poor posture or ergonomics, and periods of inactivity to name a few. Regular and focused hip stretching exercises are the best ways to keep your hips functional and free of restrictions.

To address lack of hip mobility, you’ll want to first get a baseline of where your deficits lie. As you move through each stretch you should be comparing your L to your R side and noting differences in ROM, pain, and tightness. 

If you find a deficit or limitation in range in one of the below stretches, it is important to incorporate stretching in the new found limited direction daily. This will improve and maintain normal hip mobility and flexibility as well as maximize safe and full ranges of motion in all planes. Try to hold your stretches between 30-60sec.

  • Hip external rotators/piriformis stretch
    • Test: The supine patient’s hip is flexed, abducted, and externally rotated into a figure four position with the lateral ankle resting on the opposite thigh just above the knee. Try to stabilize the opposite ASIS while applying a pulsating downward force to the knee. 
    • Measure or eyeball the perpendicular distance from the floor to the bent knee
  • Hip internal rotators
    • Normal range is between 25-45 degrees
  • Hip flexors (Iliopsoas)
  • Hamstring
    • Normal 60-90 degrees
  • Iliotibial band/ITB (stretching strap or just cross top leg over in lying)
  • Hip flexion (SKTC supine)
    • Normal 120-125

Why warm up and cool down before and after activity?

Done correctly, warming up and cooling down will reduce your risk of injury and improve your athletic performance. Before you go out for a run or start your gym workout, try to do a short warm up/cool down to prevent hip tightness and pain while doing your activity of choice.

Warm up

The purpose of a warmup is to get your blood circulating to your muscles to improve delivery of oxygen and nutrients and also to lubricate your joints. A proper warm up will prepare your heart for activity and helps initially reduce being out of breath at the start of your activity. Spend 5 minutes properly warming up before your activity.

Warm ups should be dynamic (stretching with movement) 

  • Here are some proper dynamic warm up stretches to get your hip muscles ready for exercises and prevent injury d/t loading shortened tissue too rapidly
    • Runners lunge, dynamic HS, walking SKTC, fig four, adductor side to side

Cool down

A proper cooldown helps gradually return your breathing and heart rate and to your normal resting rate and can also help prevent injury. Cool down stretching also reduces risk of fainting or dizziness caused when blood pools in large leg muscles when activity is suddenly stopped. Furthermore it reduces immediate post-exercise muscle cramping, spasm, and stiffness. Try holding stretches between 30-60 sec. 

Cool downs should be more static (stationary stretching)

  • Video: Here are some proper static cool down stretches to loosen hips and prevent stiffness after activity.
    • Iliopsoas in half kneeling, hamstring, figure four in supine/prone, hip flexor, and TFL

Sitting extended at work 

Posture plays a large role in hip and low back pathology, and usually stems from places or positions we sit the longest…for example at your work desk. It is important to ensure you are using proper ergonomics and have a proper desk set-up in order to prevent hip and low back pain from creeping in and causing pain. 

Here are some tips on posture correction in sitting:

  • Lumbar roll – this keeps our spine in neutral alignment (slight lumbar lordosis) and keeps our vertebral discs stacked and happy in order to prevent bulging/slippage which is due to an excessive pressure at our spine in bad postures. When we correct our spine from the lumbar level, it automatically puts our thoracic and cervical spine in a more neutral alignment as well. In turn this also helps prevent mid back/neck pain from interrupting your work day.
  • Check in with your posture every hour, sit tall and brace your lower core (transverse abdominis) slightly. Sit close to your workstation so there is no rounding of spine/reaching forward towards your computer. The top of your computer should be at eye level.
  • Our hips and low back do not like to be static in one place for extended periods, thus it is important to get up from sitting often throughout your work day to prevent hip tightness from setting in. If you are too involved in your work, set a timer on your phone to stand up/go for a quick walk/do a quick stretch of your hips and low back every 30-60 min. 
  • Core weakness
    • Did you know you could work on your core strength even when sitting? If your deep core is not firing properly or if you have weakness in your Transverse Abdominis (TVA), it may be putting excessive stress at your low back and hips. We are not talking about your core as in your 6 pack rectus abdominis muscles, we are talking about your TVA. Here are some tips on how to activate your core strength/endurance to determine if you are sitting with proper engagement or not:
      • Sit tall like your head is being pulled up from the ceiling
      • Feel pressure on your sit bones
      • Tip your shoulders back
      • Lift from your pelvic floor
      • Brace lower core gently

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