The Most Important Area We Ignore: Hip Flexors
Tight hip flexors can be the root cause of chronic pain and injuries in the hip, knees, ankles, low back, shoulders and neck – that’s almost everywhere! Many people come into my studio complaining of age related aches and pains, and I tell them I don’t accept that it’s age related. Maybe time related, but not specific to age. If you have been sitting at a desk working 8 hours a day, 5 days a week, not stretching or exercising those muscles, you probably experience aches and pains when you get to your 40’s (and maybe even in your 30’s with our pervasive technology posture). The aches are not typically because you are in your 40’s, but rather because your body has held up as long as it could without stretching or strengthening or both. For as much achiness and pain as you have had, for as long as you have had, you may be a few stretches away from feeling better.
Now, years of poor posture and lack of stretching/strengthening are not fixed in minutes, but a few stretches certainly sends your body in the right direction. Think about how often you sit at a desk, in the car, on a couch and the posture that your spine and neck are in during those times. In the age of technology, not many people get away from the tech slouch (head down, spine rounded, shoulders shrugged up). Imagine if you had to stretch for as many hours as you slumped to make yourself feel better? That would be tons of stretching! Fortunately, our bodies are responsive and so offsetting the slouch with some stretching goes a long way.
Now about those flexors…
Those two big cables that attach your legs to your torso are called hip flexors, iliopsoas or psoas muscles. These power muscles and attachments on the front of your leg are responsible for pulling your knees toward your chest and sometimes chest to knees. Being responsible for more than half of the body, these muscles and ligaments are powerful and strong. Unfortunately, sometimes this works against us. These powerhouse muscles get tight and overstretch the opposing muscles in the hip sometimes resulting in low back or hip pain. The pain often doesn’t show up in the flexor, and so we go on trying to fix the pain in our hip, knee, ankle or shoulders that continually returns when we sit and slouch. Frustrated, we give in and say we are getting old.
Don’t give in. Stretch and breathe.
If you find yourself seated for hours in front of a computer or driving, try a few of these to minimize the muscles fatigue:
- Scoot to the edge of your seat, and hold on to the chair. Start with both feet flat on the floor. Move your right foot so that you place the tops of your toes on the floor. Continue to move the toes behind you and under your seat. See how far back you can go to stretch out the front part of your hip. Repeat on the other side.
- While driving, place a pillow, foam block or rolled up towel between your left leg and the door. Focus on keeping your left knee facing forward and under the dashboard instead of angle to the door. Use even pressure through your right foot on the gas pedal instead of allowing your foot to roll open tower the pinky toes. At every traffic light, sit up as tall as you can and take a deep breath. (Make sure this does not distract you from the road. Always be safe while driving!)
When you stretch, take some deep breaths. Breathing can help us in many ways, but one is relaxation. Sometimes stress can cause us to hold tension in our muscles, and we don’t even realize how contracted our muscles get. A few deep breaths can help the muscles to relax as we stretch.
While stretching during the day can be beneficial, creating a 1-2 minute daily stretch routine may help you get a handle on the long-term, chronic aches and pains that have set up shop in your muscles. When time permits, a hot shower or warm bath can limber up and prepare the body for a few minutes of stretching maximizing your efforts, as well as just feeling good!
Find a local stretch class to learn how to do the stretches properly, mix and match the ones best geared toward your particular needs.