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Hip Flexor Pain - Patterns, Symptoms, And Treatment

Hip flexor pain is a quiet epidemic. Centuries ago, the invention of chairs waged war on the hip flexor muscles, sentencing the poor hip muscles to an eternity of tightness, tension, and pain. Read on to learn what is causing your hip flexor pain, where hip flexor pain is felt, and most importantly what to do to fix it.

Hip Flexor Pain Relief

 

Hip Flexor Pain Anatomy

9 out of 10 times, pain in the hip flexor muscles is brought on by sitting in chairs. The reason sitting causes hip flexor pain is sitting chronically shortens, weakens, and strains the hip flexor muscles (specifically Iliacus, Psoas, and TFL).

The human body evolved to jog, bend, squat, and lift - not sit hunched over in a chair 10 hours a day. This new 10-hour-per-day-plus sitting lifestyle is very new to the human experience, and it causes some gnarly tension in the body - particularly in the hip flexors - hence the manifestation of hip flexor pain.

 

Where Is Hip Flexor Pain Felt?

What Hip Flexor Pain Feels Like: Hip flexor pain can be boiled down to shortness and tension developed by two particular muscle groups: the Tensor Fasciae Latae (TFL) and the Iliopsoas (Iliacus + Psoas). Each muscle is anatomically a hip flexor, meaning it functions in swinging the leg forward and bringing the knee closer to the chest. To feel these muscles contract - stand on one leg and bring the other leg to the chest in a marching motion.

Where Hip Flexor Pain Is Felt: The TFL and Iliopsoas hip flexor muscle groups cause pain in different locations. The hip flexor pain caused by Iliopsoas (top image below) is characteristic of the general sitting-induced lower back and hip pain. On the other hand, the hip flexor pain caused by TFL (bottom image below) is more commonly described as outer hip pain, runner's knee, or IT Band pain. 

Images Of The 2 Hip Flexor Pain Patterns:

iliopsoas hip flexor pain

Iliopsoas Hip Flexor Pain Pattern [1]

TFL Hip Flexor Pain Pattern

TFL Hip Flexor Pain Pattern [1]

Other Hip Flexor Pain Symptoms:

Hip flexor pain symptoms are not just limited to the pain patterns above. Other common hip flexor pain symptoms may include:

 

Hip Flexor Pain Treatment

Hip flexor pain treatment is a two-step process: 1) deep tissue massage, and 2) stretching techniques. These two steps done correctly will open up your hips and potentially relieve years of hip flexor pain.

Hip Flexor Pain Treatment Step 1: Deep Tissue Massage

The first step to hip flexor pain relief is physically massaging all of the constant tension and tightness out of the hip flexor muscles. This can be done by the hands of a trained physical or massage therapist, or at home with a nifty deep tissue release tool like QL Claw. I use QL Claw for hip flexor release due to convenience - sometimes you need a deep tissue release right then and there, and don't have time to schedule an appointment. QL Claw can effectively massage all hip flexor muscles for pain relief - check out the hip flexor release page for more info.

Hip Flexor Pain Treatment Step 2: Stretching Exercises

After the knots, trigger points, and tension are ironed out of the hip flexor muscles with massage, effective stretching can leap you forward in your hip flexor pain relief. There are tons of ways to stretch the hip flexors, but make sure to stick to these principles:

  • Stretch with both knee-straight and knee-flexed orientation
  • Use the flossing technique
  • Perform stretches for :45 to 1:30 on each side

If the bullets above are confusing watch the video below for two quick hip flexor stretches that illustrate the points:

 

 

Iliopsoas Hip Flexor Pain Causes

Iliacus and Psoas muscle pain is no accident. Unfortunately, hip flexor pain is incredibly rampant in today's sedentary age and most people have absolutely no idea.

The main hip flexor pain mechanism is excess sitting. When sitting in chairs, the Psoas and Iliacus muscles shorten drastically. Sitting in this position for 8, 10, 12 hours a day puts a ton of strain on the hip flexor muscles, pelvis, and lower back. The majority of society does this day in, day out - creating an insane amount of tightness and pain that appears "non-specific" or "random" or "just part of getting old". Without attention paid to hip flexor pain and tightness, it is very easy to fall into this unfortunate pain pattern.

Another hip flexor pain trigger is performing a high-impact movement that the body is not conditioned to handle. For the hip flexor muscles, which function in lifting the knee to the chest, this can look like breaking into a sprint for the first time in years, hiking up a steep incline, walking up a lot of stairs, or doing any other activity straining the hip flexor muscles. This is typically a quicker trigger of pain than the sitting mechanism - you will likely know immediately whether or not you messed up.

 

Thank you for reading, check out the links below for more things hip flexor pain relief!

 
 
 
 

Sources/Influences:

[1] Donnelly, Joseph M. Travell, Simons & Simons Myofascial Pain and Dysfunction: the Trigger Point Manual. 3rd ed., Wolters Kluwer Health, 2019.

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