When it comes to fitness, we usually focus our attention on the biggest and most visible muscle groups. Working on the arms, legs, and abs is certainly a good thing but we must not forget that smaller supporting muscles are also essential in our daily lives. Our workouts should involve the entire body and not just isolate the parts that would make us look good. Unfortunately, we often neglect those at the periphery until we are forced to take notice due to aches and pain. The hip flexors are among those generally relegated to the background but truly deserve to get more attention.
What Hip Flexors Do for Us
This is a group of muscles located on the front and side of the body that help us raise our thighs. As the name suggests, they flex the hip when we try to elevate our leg. They may be small but they are extremely important as they figure prominently in basic movement patterns. We use them in running, climbing, walking, and jumping. Mobility can be severely impaired if they are compromised in any way. Athletes need to be particularly watchful of their hip flexors because these can make or break a performance. Unfortunately, a lot of them deal with persistent issues due to these muscles.
You use hip flexors every day when you try to go up and down the stairs. They enable you to lift your legs one at a time to climb up each step. The same is true when you are walking up a steep slope. Even a slight incline will active them. If there is something wrong, then you will certainly feel it. Running is a demanding activity in which you are basically jumping in quick succession using alternate legs. As one leg is pushing off the ground, the other must lift off and anticipate the impact of landing. You won’t be able to run efficiently in a race if they are tight.
What the Common Symptoms Are
Your body will tell you when something is wrong. You only need to listen to it instead of ignoring the signs as so many are prone to do. The biggest red flag is pain around the front of the hips. If you feel this during any of the above activities mentioned, then you should investigate further. Note that this pain is not limited to leg-lifting movements. Anything that requires the use of the flexors can trigger it such as sit-ups. This is the case, the legs are steady but the upper body is trying to get up using the lower ab muscles and hip flexors.
Sometimes the pain is so great that the area will feel tender to the touch. Try to use your fingers to find spots that hurt. Press as deep as you can across every inch to locate the problem. There are times when the muscles are so overworked that swelling or bruising can appear. This makes it easier to spot although this would mean that the issue is worse than you might have anticipated. It could take a while to things to subside. There are also cases when you are caught by surprise as the pain comes on quite suddenly. One moment you’re fine and the next you’re in excruciating pain. This could be worse if you try to left your knee to your chest or stretch the hip muscles.
What Often Causes the Problem
Muscles will get stronger when you exercise them and provide adequate time to recover. Recovery is key. If you use them too much to the point of abuse, then they will have a hard time bouncing back from the workouts. The damage they sustain will not get a chance to heal. This happens a lot among endurance athletes such as long-distance cyclists. They need to remain in a sitting position for great lengths of time during training and racing. This shortens their flexors as well as pushing them to the limit. Others identified as high-risk individuals are dancers, soccer players, and hikers.
The strain can also be caused by incorrect stretching. Going in too deep to the point of pain will only cause tears instead of making you flexible. You should always be cautious when doing yoga, warm-ups, or any type of stretch. Muscle tears can range from mild to severe. You are lucky if all you have are a couple of damaged fibers. They should heal completely in a matter of weeks as long as you don’t worsen the injury. It will be more serious if there are lots of broken fibers as this might affect your ability to flex your hips. The worst form is a complete tear of the muscle as you might need surgery to go back to normal.
What We Can Do to Fix It
The body has the ability to heal itself if we let it. We must give it enough time and adequate nutrition to hasten the process. Resting for a week is better than ignoring the problem and ending up injured for a month or even a year. Shift your focus to other activities for the meantime. Perhaps you can work on your upper body instead. If the pain is too much, then you can take an over-the-counter drug such as ibuprofen. Go to a sports doctor to get further instructions and undergo laboratory tests if needed. Physical therapy may also be recommended to unlock hip flexors.