Low Back Pain? Check Your Hip Flexors!

All of us have experienced low back pain at some point in our lives, and it is surely aggravating!  Even though you might be able to pinpoint what activity caused it, you could be missing a very important underlying factor!  Tight hip flexors can really throw a proverbial monkey wrench into things.  

Foam rolling and stretching your lower back is always helpful, but don’t neglect those hip flexors!  It’s always a great idea to stretch your hips and hip flexors – just to be proactive.  You already know that I’m going to recommend yoga. . . honestly, you cannot go wrong!  Whether you’re looking for recovery, stress relief, pain relief, improved balance, improved flexibility, improved mobility, improved strength, or ALL of the above, yoga is the answer!   But back to how hip flexors affect your lower back. . .

Quite often lately, I’ve noticed that stretching my hip flexors always makes my lower back feel better and improves my flexibility tremendously.  So I researched the connection between hip flexors and low back pain.  I’ve read over so many articles on web sites such as Livelovefruit.com, Netafit.com, Integrehab.com, ISSAonline.com, and Spineuniverse.com.  The overwhelming results are that tight hip flexors are most likely responsible for a large percentage of lower back pain!

First let’s pinpoint exactly what hip flexors are:

  • Iliopsoas muscle is actually two muscles working together to stabilize the lower back – the psoas (my personal nemesis) and the Iliacus.  The psoas is SO hard to stretch because it runs from the lumbar spine (mid back) into and through the pelvis to attach to the thigh bone (femur).  The iliacus muscle attaches the pelvis to the thigh bone; its purpose is to rotate the thigh.
  • Rectus femoris muscle attaches the pelvis to the knee and the quadriceps muscle, which is used in squatting and lunging.
  • Sartorius muscle goes from the pelvis to the knee and flexes the knee and leg.
  • Pectineus muscle, more commonly known as the groin muscle, is used in hip flexion, thigh rotation, and adduction.

All of these hip flexor muscles work together to stabilize the spine, and to allow us to have hip flexion.  Now let’s examine some signs that your hip flexors are tight.  

  • The most obvious sign is these muscles just feel tight, even when you try to stretch them. 
  • You experience a tightness or pain in your lower back, especially when you stand up.  (This one is me!)
  • You have poor posture and have a hard time standing up straight.
  • You have neck tightness and pain.  (Yes!  Hip flexors affect our entire back!
  • You experience pain in the glutes.

To sum all this up, tight hips can negatively affect our whole body, especially our lower back.  To alleviate low back pain, you can’t go wrong with foam rolling, icing, and/or stretching.  However, if you fail to address the underlying problem, the problem and the pain will persist.  

Tight hip flexor muscles will shorten, which pulls on the lumbar spine of your lower back causing the muscles of your lower back to tighten and cause pain.  That dreaded psoas (remember, my personal nemesis?) is attached straight to the vertebrae of the lower spine.  It’s really hard to stretch because of its location, and once it tightens and shortens, it can cause some serious pain.  For me personally, it’s always the right side and reminds me of experiencing a kidney stone!  It can become really painful.

Specifically quoted from spineuniverse.com:  “From the perspective of a doctor of physical therapy, Tony Matoska, PT, DPT, CMPT, Clinic Manager for Athletico Muskego, WI and Wisconsin Spine Specialty Program Regional Coordinator for Athletico, notes that “tight hips and hamstrings are more likely to affect your lower back than your middle or upper back (thoracic spine).”

In addition to muscle tightness in the hips, Matoska notes that stiff hip joints can lead to lower back pain. “A lack of rotational motion and ability to flex or extend your hip forwards or backwards can affect your walking, running, swinging, and twisting motions and increase mechanical strain on your lower back.”

So now that we see the connection between hip flexors and low back pain, what do we do about it?  Stretching is incredibly important!  Before you begin any workout – dancing, lifting, running, swimming – stretch!  Take the time to stretch; it’s more than worth it!  Strengthening the hip flexors is also incredibly important.   Include lunges, lying leg raises, kettlebell swings, hanging leg raises, glute bridges, and Bulgarian split squats to strengthen those muscles.

And, of course, YOGA!  There are SO many yoga stretches to stretch and strengthen your hip flexors and lower back – in the same session!  You can easily fit 10 to 15 minutes of yoga when you wake up in the morning and before you go to bed at night.  (Yes, you can.  Make the time; it’s that important!)  Include child’s pose, forward folds (standing and seated), butterfly pose, pigeon, sleeping pigeon, lizard, seated and supine twists, just to name a few.  Please check out the Yoga section on this web site if you’re local to me for class locations and times!  If you’re not local, please find a local yoga studio or gym that offers yoga classes.  You’ll be SO glad you did!

Start taking proactive care of your hip flexor muscles to improve your overall posture and relieve, if not prevent, low back pain! 

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