Hips Don't Lie
I hardly know anyone, runner or otherwise, who doesn’t say that their hip flexors are tight. This is a common problem for most of us, especially with the amount of time we sit at work or in the car. Runners and Triathletes are even more susceptible to sensing tightness in the front of their hips because of the repetitive hip flexion required for running and cycling. Tight hip flexors can cause a myriad of problems, including low back pain, hip pain, and knee pain. Restriction of the front of the hip can also make it difficult to utilize and strengthen the glutes properly. This can be further accentuated by poor running or cycling posture and muscle activation. So what is an athlete to do?
First, let’s go over the anatomy of the hip flexors. This is actually a muscle group, and includes the iliopsoas, Rectus femoris, and Pectineus. The Iliopsoas originates from several vertebrae along the lumbar spine as well as the ilium, or hip bone. The Rectus Femoris is one of the quadriceps muscles, and is unique in that it crosses both the hip and knee joints. The Pectineus (not shown) is much smaller and less discussed in this cohort, but aids in flexing the hip as well as adduction, or moving the leg toward midline.
While knowing how to stretch these muscles is important to relieve tension, it is also important to understand the root cause to stave off this problem. Tightness and fatigue of any muscle is often an indication that it is weak, or unable to handle the task that you’re asking it to do. Therefore, part of the fix is to strengthen the hip flexors and get them used to working in the correct posture.
“Lower Crossed Syndrome” is a term to describe this common phenomenon of tight hip flexors and low back extensors coinciding with weakness of the abdominals and glute muscles. The reason that these occur together is that the posture of accentuated lumbar lordosis and anterior pelvic tilt places the abdominals and glutes in a poor position to work properly.