Iliopsoas muscle and tendon strains may occur with activities that require repetitive hip flexion, such as hurdling, uphill running and playing soccer. Deep hip pain is the primary symptom. Hip flexor stretching and strengthening exercises reduce the likelihood of iliopsoas strains. Weighted or unweighted leg raises from a standing, sitting or lying position strengthen the iliopsoas and other hip flexors.
3. Hug it out. Start the supine hip flexor stretch the same as the glute bridge, but keep the right leg relaxed on the floor. Pull shoulder blades down and back to lift hips. Grab the back thigh of the left leg and pull the knee toward the chest. Keep the right leg straight and push its heel into the floor (to feel it in the butt). Hold for 30-45 seconds and switch legs.
We all do it—we stretch in the morning to get our blood flowing, we stretch our legs after a long drive, and we stretch our shoulders after sitting at our desks for hours. Stretching is an intuitive movement, not only for humans but for animals as well. (Try doing some yoga on your living room floor without your dog or cat coming by to stretch alongside you!) We stretch because it is a simple and effective way to loosen our muscles and invigorate our bodies.
Note: Exercises that strengthen the hip flexors also involve contracting (shortening) these muscles. So if tight hip flexors are a problem for you, it might be wise to limit how many direct hip-strengthening exercises you perform. These exercises are more geared toward people who have been told they have weak hip flexors that need strengthening or are looking for targeted exercises to build more power and stamina in the hip flexors.
The primary hip flexors are the rectus femoris, iliacus, psoas, iliocapsularis, and sartorius muscles. The rectus femoris muscle has two distinct origins proximally: the direct head and the reflected head. They originate at the AIIS and the anterior acetabular rim (in close proximity to the anterior hip capsule), respectively. The tendinous fibers of the rectus femoris coalesce distally and become confluent with the other quadriceps musculature in the thigh. The quadriceps consists of four distinct muscles: 1) the vastus intermedius; 2) the vastus lateralis; 3) the vastus medialis; and 4) the rectus femoris. The rectus femoris is the only quadriceps muscle that traverses both the hip and the knee joint. The rectus femoris is a powerful hip flexor, but it is largely dependent on the position of the knee and hip to assert its influence. It is most powerful when the knee is flexed, whereas significant power is lost when the knee is extended. The rectus femoris is innervated by the femoral nerve (i.e., the posterior division of L2 to L4).
The iliopsoas muscle is the prime hip flexor and shortening may affect the lower back, pelvis, and/or hip joint. Caution should be taken during this release due to the sensitive area in which the therapist's hand pushes, i.e. proximity to the appendix, possible abdominal aortic abnormalities, potential tissue weaknesses predisposing to inguinal hernias, ovarian conditions, or general irritation/inflammation of the gastrointestinal system; hence, this release may occasionally be replaced by the regular therapeutic stretch presented in Chapter 7 (see Fig. 7.14).
Located deep in the front of the hip and connecting the leg, pelvis, and abdomen, the hip flexors— surprise, surprise— flex the hip. But despite being some of the most powerful muscles in our bodies (with a clearly important role), it’s easy to neglect our poor hip flexors— often without even knowing it. It turns out just working at a desk all day (guilty!) can really weaken hip flexors since they tend to shorten up while in a seated position. This tightness disrupts good posture and is a common cause of lower back pain. Weakened hip flexors can also increase the risk of foot, ankle, and knee injuries (especially among runners) Hip muscle weakness and overuse injuries in recreational runners. Niemuth, P.E., Johnson, R.J., Myers, M.J., et al. Rocky Mountain University of Health Professions, Provo, VT. Clinical Journal of Sport Medicine, 2005 Jan; 15 (1): 14-21.. So be sure to get up, stand up every hour or so! And giving the hip flexors some extra attention is not just about injury prevention. Adding power to workouts, working toward greater flexibility, and getting speedier while running is also, as they say, all in the hips The effect of walking speed on muscle function and mechanical energetics. Neptune, R.R., Sasaki, K., and Kautz, S.A. Department of Mechanical Engineering, The University of Texas, Austin, TX. Gait & Posture, 2008 Jul; 28 (1): 135-43..
You’ve heard the saying: it’s all in the hips, but for many of us, our hips – or more precisely, our hip flexors – are tight, stiff and inflexible. If you’re an office worker you can probably thank sitting down at your desk 8 or more hours a day for your tight hip flexors. Habitual sitting causes your hip flexors to tighten and shorten – adjustable standing desks, anyone?
The rectus femoris is one of the quadriceps muscles. The rectus femoris arises from the front of your hipbone, runs through the middle region of the front thigh and attaches to the top of the kneecap. In addition to hip flexion, the rectus femoris straightens, or extends, your knee. This dual function increases the vulnerability to strain injuries. Stretching exercises to maintain flexibility and balanced training to equalize your quad and hamstring strength reduce the likelihood of rectus femoris strains.
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The term iliopsoas refers to the iliacus and psoas muscles, which are grouped together because they function collaboratively and share a common tendon. The psoas originates from your lower spine, and the iliacus arises from the inside of your hipbone. The muscles come together as they cross through the pelvis and insert on the inner thighbone below the hip joint. The iliopsoas is the most powerful hip flexor.
This article will explain why doing hip flexor stretches may not loosen your hips, and what you can do instead to relieve tightness and improve your ability. If you like this story, be sure to subscribe to the PTDC newsletter. It’s free, and you’ll get the best fitness industry advice—from training techniques to coaching skills to marketing and business—delivered straight to your inbox every week.
Tight hips can stem from multiple things, so I recommend you see a physical therapist, physiotherapist, or personal trainer to help identify the actual issue. Like I mentioned before, your hip flexors may be tight because they are shortened and weakened from desk jockeying all day, or maybe your workout is leading to a muscular imbalance. Perhaps your back is weak and some muscles are pulling double duty, creating extra tension. There’s also a good chance your core is weak and your glutes are underdeveloped.
If you suffer from tight hips, I’ve compiled the best stretches and exercises to help you get the relief you need! Whether your hips are tight from sitting all day or from killing your last workout, these hip flexor stretches should help you get some relief. Tight muscles can potentially be shortened, and tight hips might mean your abs are weak or you have some instability in your back. Let’s stretch these babies out and help you work to get balanced and feeling better!
Unfortunately hip mobility issues like these are some of the most common problems I see in the weightlifting population. However, the issues manifest differently in different people. In some, it's a basic inability to descend below parallel—or anywhere near it—in squat variations. In others, it can contribute directly to debilitating lower back pain, even in people who spend hours every week strengthening their backs.
When I do a deep knee bend like a sumo squat I get a popping in the outside of my left knee. It feels like a big tendon or ligament is slipping per something. It isn’t painful peer se but I’m afraid if I do it a lot it will be. Is that a relatively common symptom for a guy with tight flexors, it bands, etc? Should I just push through it or have it checked out?
Come into a lunge position with your right knee forward, and lower your left knee to the ground, releasing so the top of your left foot is flat on the floor. Place your hands on the ground under your shoulders, keeping them both to the inside of your right leg. Keep your arms straight and press your chest forward to increase the stretch. Sink into your hips, but try to keep the weight balanced between them. Be aware that your front knee doesn’t go over your toes. Repeat on the opposite leg.
Beverly Hosford, MA teaches anatomy and body awareness using a unique method that involves a skeleton named Andy, balloons, play-doh, ribbons, guided visualizations, and corrective exercises. She is an instructor, author, the NFPT blog editor, and a business coach for fitness professionals. Learn more about how to align your business with her coaching guide, Fitness Career Freedom and your body with her Fundamentals of Anatomy Course.
In the case of a weak or under-active psoas or iliacus, the femur may move above the level of the hip but it is not from the action of the psoas and iliacus but rather from the momentum created by the other three hip flexors. With this knowledge in hand, I believe that our knowledge of back pain, “hip flexor strains,” and ‘quad pulls” is drastically expanded. Before we discuss specific injuries let’s first look at how to assess the function of the psoas and iliacus.
The hip flexors often get deemed as tight. You can stretch the hip flexors as a group by doing hip extension. This may not get to the root of the issue though. As we just learned, each hip flexor participates in the motion differently depending on the position of the femur. Carefully add internal or external rotation and abduction or adduction when extending the hip to stretch hip flexion. It’s a good place to start when wanting to create a more effective stretch.
The wisdom that Sahrmann shares in her book Diagnosis and Treatment of Movement Impairment Syndromes explains many of the injury riddles of the Strength and Conditioning field, particularly the “hip flexor pull” or “quad pull.” The key to understanding the motion of hip flexion comes from looking at the anatomical leverages of the different muscles involved. There are five muscles that are capable of assisting in hip flexion:
Imagine not being able to climb stairs, bend over, or even walk Changes in hip joint muscle-tendon lengths with mode of locomotion. Riley, P.O., Franz, J., Dicharry, J., et al. Center for Applied Biomechanics, University of Virginia, Charlottesville, VA. Gait & Posture, 2010 Feb; 31 (2): 279-83.. All pretty essential if you ask us! But that’s what our bodies would be like without our hip flexor muscles. Never heard of ‘em? It’s about time we share why they’re so important, how your desk job might be making them weaker (ah!), and the best ways to stretch them out.
The iliopsoas muscle group consists of two muscles: the psoas muscle and the iliac muscle. These muscles work together to help the hip flex. The psoas muscle connects to the lumbar vertebrae L1 through L5. The other end of the psoas muscle connects to the tendon on femur bone. The lumbar plexus, a nerve bundle that originates at the middle of the spine, supplies the psoas with nerves. The iliac muscle connects to the ilium, the largest bone of the pelvis, on the top and runs under the psoas to the same tendons of the femur bone as the psoas muscle. The nerves of the iliac muscle are supplied by the femoral nerve, which is located in the leg.
The tensor fascia lata (TFL), quadriceps, and sartorius muscles comprise what I call the big three hip flexors. These muscles are often overlooked in rehabilitation with more focus placed on a fourth hip flexor, the iliopsoas. In my opinion, though, these three hip flexors cause much more damage due to their size, the fact that they alter pelvic and knee mechanics, and their involvement in just about everything we do with our legs.