Hip flexor stretch to protect your low back?

Do you sit a lot?

A lot is a relative term but if you’re anything like the majority of people that don’t have a job that requires them to be on their feet most of the day, chances are you sit for several hours per day. If you’re a commuter in the Bay Area, you’re looking at somewhere between 2-3 hours per day on average, and that’s in addition to whatever you do for work and what you do when you get home.

This is not an updated “sitting is the new smoking” blog but rather a bit of info to help you if you tend to struggle with low back issues as a result of all that sitting. And even if you don’t, this is to learn to help you prevent various complications that come along with having a poor functioning hip flexor muscle group… which we tend to get from sitting for many accumulated hours.

To give you a visual of these different hip flexor muscles, the psoas attaches from the front of your lumbar spine (low back) and goes down to the front of your thigh bone (femur). The other muscle that contributes to the hip flexor group goes from the front of your Ilium (pelvis) and attaches way down at the knee. Similar to how your bicep muscle helps you bend your elbow joint, the Hip flexor muscles help you bend your hip joint and bring your leg up and this allows you to walk, run, kick, and it even assists when you do sit-ups. 

If you periodically experience low back issues or SI joint issues and you haven’t tried this stretch or variation of it, it’s worth your while to ease your way into it and give it a few days of consistent work. There are usually some short term relief types of benefits but consistency over time is what pays off big time in the long run.

Basic Hip flexor stretch:

  1. Use a cushion under your knee to avoid discomfort. Take a ½ kneeling position as shown and use your knee or a close by wall to help with your balance and upright posture. 
  2. Keeping your upright posture, work at tucking your pelvis underneath your torso. When done properly, this will slightly engage your glute muscle and you’ll most likely begin to feel the stretch sensation on the front of your hip or even into the front of your thigh (quadriceps muscles).
  3. If you can maintain the upright posture and pelvic tilt, begin to slowly move your body forward to increase the stretch. The important thing here is to make sure you continue to breathe calmly. When you hold your breath, your body tends to go into the stress response and can prevent you from getting more benefits from the stretch.
  4. Hold this stretch for anywhere between 30-60 seconds. Consistency is more important than how intense you go so work on proper form in all of these stretch variations and back off if you feel pain.

Rear Foot Elevated Hip Flexor Stretch. aka:(Couch Stretch)

  1. Use a cushion under your down knee to avoid discomfort. Start with your knee on the ground and foot up on a chair or couch. 
  2. Use your knee or close by wall to help you work on getting your posture more upright. As you do this, you’ll most likely feel the stretch on the front of your thigh.
  3. Keeping your upright posture, work at tucking your pelvis underneath your torso. When done properly, this will slightly engage your glute muscle and you’ll most likely begin to feel the stretch sensation even more.
  4. Remember to breathe.
  5. Hold from anywhere between 30-60 seconds. In general, you’ll usually do 1-3 sets per leg for this stretch.

Standing Hip Flexor Stretch:

  1. Take a long stride and make sure both feet are facing straight forward. This requires a bit more balance so make sure you have a wall nearby just in case you need assistance.
  2. Straighten out the back leg and push through your heel to engage the glute muscle. 
  3. Work at tucking the pelvis as you move your torso forward. 

Standing Front Foot Elevated Hip Flexor Stretch:

  1. Place your front foot on a stable surface around knee height.
  2. Maintaining an upright posture, tuck the pelvis and engage the glute muscle.
  3. Move your torso forward and allow your front knee to bend. 
  4. You can hold this stretch or go through repetitions. Just make sure to work on the subtle details of the upright posture and tucking of the pelvis.

Just like with almost all muscles that you feel like they need to be stretched, you’ll also want to see if they need strengthening. For the hip flexors, there are a ton of ways to get that done and definitely worth another blog. In the meantime, simply marching in place and working at pulling your knees up high as you do that is a great way to start. 

Depending on the day and what you have access to, you can choose a variety of these stretches and get in 2-4 sets per leg. It’s always worth trying out the various options and see what works best for you. As mentioned above, consistency is important so whichever one you choose, stick with it and see how your body changes over time. 

Enjoy your stretching,

Dr. Drew