Tight hips can cause pain and discomfort in areas you wouldn’t suspect. Here’s how to get relief without leaving your living room.
Tight hips are a common but tricky issue. Sometimes it’s straightforward: You feel tightness in your hips, so you stretch them. But other times, you may have no idea pain or discomfort in your legs, back, or elsewhere is actually caused by tight hips.
First, some background: When we talk about tight hips, we’re usually referring to the hip flexors. This group of muscles runs from your lower back through the front of your hips to the tops of your thighs, and their job is to pull your thigh toward your torso every time you take a step.
Your hip flexors also engage anytime you’re in a seated position, which is very often for most people. So it’s not surprising that sitting is the primary cause of tight hip flexors, regardless of age.
“If you spend a lot of time sitting, it’s just going to happen,” says Sage Rountree, an internationally recognized yoga expert and coauthor of Lifelong Yoga.
And unfortunately, issues like poor mobility, joint pain, and balance problems can lead many older adults to sit more often than they should or would like to, which can contribute to a variety of other pain and mobility issues.
That’s because when you’re sitting, the hip flexor muscles are placed in a perpetually shortened position. Over time, this leads to tightness, which puts extra stress on the lower back and hamstrings, Rountree explains.
It’s a domino effect. Tight hip flexors lead to overstretched hamstrings (the muscles located in the backs of your legs that complement the hip flexors), which can then cause your pelvis to shift and lower back to overarch. Rountree calls it the “Donald Duck posture.” And when she sees it, she knows the root cause: tight hips.
How to Prevent or Relieve Tight Hips
The best way to relieve tight hip flexors—and related lower back and hamstring issues—is to stay active as much as possible. Walking, jogging, swimming, and yoga are all great activities to incorporate into your routine.
Additionally, make a habit of doing gentle hip flexor stretches every day—or even multiple times per day. Rountree recommends doing two or three of the following stretches up to three times each day to release muscle tension and improve mobility.
Ease into each position, and never force yourself to go beyond what’s comfortable. If you hold your breath or get too aggressive, your body will react by preventing the stretch from happening. “You wind up having the opposite effect of what you were trying to do,” Rountree says.
Once you’re comfortable in the pose, hold the stretch for five deep breaths per side. “Your breath can help massage your hip flexors with every cycle,” Rountree says.
Ready to get started? Here’s how to perform each stretch. As always, safety is key. The stretches here may be different or more advanced than those you’ll experience in a SilverSneakers class. If you have a chronic condition, balance issues, or injuries, talk to your doctor about how you can exercise safely.
Hip Stretch #1: Lunge in a Chair
Place two sturdy chairs about three feet apart, both facing the same direction. The front chair is to help you balance so only use it as needed.
Standing a few feet in front of the back chair, lift your left leg and place the top of your shin on the seat of the chair. Your knee will reach past the front edge, and the top of your foot will hang over the back. For extra comfort, you can place a folded blanket or cushion underneath your shin.
From here, bend your front knee slightly as you push your hips forward and down. To increase the stretch, step your front foot forward so it’s farther away from the chair. Hold this position for five deep breaths, then switch sides and repeat.
If you’re uncomfortable balancing on one leg, try it on two with this yoga for beginner’s guide to the lunge.
Hip Stretch #2: Seated Dancer’s Pose
This pose works best in a chair without arms. Start by sitting tall on the edge of a chair with both legs bent 90 degrees, feet flat on the floor. Scoot your hips to the left side of the seat so your left leg hangs off the side. Lean back so your upper back rests against the chair and your left arm hangs down at your side.
From here, bring your left foot out and behind the chair so you can cradle the top of your foot in your left palm. Your left knee will either point forward or down toward the floor. If you’re unable to reach your foot to your hand (it’s harder than it looks!), simply rest the top of your foot on the floor and lean back. Hold the stretch for five deep breaths, then switch sides and repeat.
Still too challenging? Try the next stretch instead.
Hip Stretch #3: Reclining Dancer’s Pose
If seated dancer’s pose doesn’t feel good to you or you just prefer lying down, this is a great alternative. Lie on your back on the edge of a bed or couch so your left leg and arm hang off the side. Plant your left foot flat on the floor, and bend your right leg so your foot is flat on the bed or couch.
Next, reach your left foot back to cradle the top of your foot in your left hand. To increase the stretch, gently reach your foot farther back. If you can’t connect your foot to your hand, just rest the top of your foot on the floor. Hold for five deep breaths, then switch sides and repeat.
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