What does it mean to have tight hips?
A feeling of tightness across the hips comes from tension around the hip flexors. The hip flexors are a group of muscles around the top of the thighs that connect the upper leg to the hip. These muscles allow you to bend at the waist and raise your leg.
Some of the main hip flexors are the:
- rectus femoris
- tensor fasciae latae
Many people have tight hips, from people who spend several hours a day sitting to regular gym-goers and professional athletes. Some people are more prone to tightness in that area of their body, too. Tight hips may put you at increased risk for injury due to the increased demands on tissues that aren’t moving properly.
Read on to learn more about tight hips and what you can do to relax these muscles.
7 Stretches to loosen up tight hips
Foam roller stretches and hip flexor stretches can help to relieve tightness in the hips.
1. Foam roller stretch
You can use a foam roller to loosen up tight hips.
- Lie face down, with your foam roller beneath and slightly below your right hip.
- Place your left leg to the side with the knee bent at a 90-degree angle.
- Rest your forearms on the ground in front of you to take some of your body weight off of your hip. This will make the stretch less painful.
- Stretch your right leg straight out behind you, with your toes pointed backward and the front of your foot flat against the ground
- Slowly move backward and forward over the foam roller.
- For an extra stretch, add some side-to-side movement as you roll.
- Continue for up to 30 seconds. As you roll, identify any trigger points, or points that feel extra tight or painful. You can focus on those areas for about 10 seconds to relieve some of the tightness.
- Repeating with your left hip.
2. Kneeling hip flexor stretch
You can do this stretch daily to help loosen your hip flexor.
- Kneel on your right knee.
- Put your left foot on the floor with your left knee at a 90-degree angle
- Drive your hip forward. Maintaining a straight back, lean your torso forward.
- Hold the position for 30 seconds.
- Repeat 2 to 5 times with each leg, trying to increase your stretch each time.
3. Pigeon stretch
This stretch is commonly seen in yoga practices. It can be used daily to improve mobility in your hip flexor.
- Begin on your hands and knees in a tabletop position.
- Bring your right knee forward and place it behind your right wrist.
- Place your right ankle in front of your left hip.
- Straighten your left leg behind you, making sure your left knee is straight and your toes are pointed.
- Keep your hips square.
- Gently lower yourself to the ground.
- Stay in this position for up to 10 seconds.
- Release the position by pushing on your hands, lifting your hips, and moving the legs back into your starting position on all fours.
- Repeat on the other side.
4. Spiderman stretch
The spiderman stretch can help warm up your body before a workout, or it can be used on its own or alongside other hip flexor stretches.
- Begin in the push-up position.
- Step forward with the left foot, bringing it to the outside of your left hand.
- Stretch the hips forward.
- Hold this position for two seconds, then return to start.
- Repeat five times to complete one rep.
- Repeat with the right leg.
- Perform three reps with each leg.
5. Butterfly stretch
This is a great stretch to practice after a workout or if you need a break from sitting in a chair.
- Sit on the floor with both legs straight out in front of you.
- Bring the soles of your feet together, and then move your heels as close to your body as you can.
- Lean forward with a straight back.
- Push on your thighs with your elbows for a deeper stretch.
- Hold the stretch for 30 seconds.
6. Horizontal squat stretch
This stretch can also help loosen your back muscles.
- Begin with your elbows and knees on the floor, and your knees bent at 90 degrees.
- Walk your knees as far apart as you can and lengthen the spine.
- Lower your upper body onto your forearms as you draw your hips back and down.
- Hold for up to 60 seconds.
7. Sitting stretch
This is a great stretch to try at your desk if you work in an office. You can also do this one while watching television or riding in a car or on an airplane.
- 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 stretch.
- Hold for up to 60 seconds.
- Repeat on the other side.
How do you know if your hips are tight?
Pain and discomfort from tight hips is normally felt in the upper groin area. You may also experience lower back pain or hamstring strains. Tight hips often lead to issues in the low back, knees, and sacroiliac joints.
A simple way to assess flexibility of the hip flexor muscles is called the Thomas test:
- Lie on your back on the floor, a bench, or another stable, flat surface.
- Bring both knees to your chest.
- Hold your right knee against your chest.
- Straighten your left leg.
- Lower your left leg as far as possible.
- Repeat with the other leg.
Hip flexors are considered tight if either leg cannot completely lower to the surface you are lying on.
What causes tight hips?
A sedentary lifestyle can lead to tight hip flexors and hip flexor pain. That’s because excessive sitting causes the muscles to relax and deactivate. They become progressively weaker and shorter, sometimes causing a painful condition called adaptive shortening.
Tight hips may also be caused by:
- standing after long periods of sitting
- a tipped pelvis, which creates a structural imbalance
- postural habits like leaning over into one hip or leaning forward into both hips when standing
- sleeping all night on the same side of the body
- having one leg longer than the other
Tight hips may also flare up when you perform lower body exercises, like squats and deadlifts.
What can you do to help prevent or reduce your risk for tight hips?
It may not be possible to prevent tight hips, but you can reduce your risk for hip pain:
- Get up and move around every hour or so if you sit at a desk for long periods of time.
- Warm up properly before any workout.
- Stretch at the end of every workout.
Stretching and massage can also reduce your risk for muscle tightness and pain.
Massage helps relieve tight hips by:
- stretching tissues that cannot be reached by foam rollers
- breaking down scar tissue
- increasing blood flow to tissues
- releasing endorphins to reduce pain
- relaxing the muscle through heat generation and circulation
Foam roller stretches and hip flexor stretches should help to loosen the tight hip muscles. Treatment from a qualified sports and remedial massage therapist can also provide relief.
See your doctor if you have persistent pain in any part of your body. They can determine if your pain is the result of an underlying medical cause.