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Should you be stretching your hip flexors?

One of the most common stretches I see people doing out on the fitness floor is the “hip flexor stretch”.

Why do most people do it? Well, they either read in a magazine that they should do it or was told by their trainer or therapist that they should do it. The reason they were told to do it might be because they have low back pain and supposedly the cause of their pain is from “tight” hip flexors. Or, they were told to do it because they sit all day so their hip flexors must be short and tight.

Stretching “tight” hip flexors may give you a sensation that feels good or the muscles feel “tight” when stretching so it must be a good thing , right? Well, maybe….or maybe not.

My question is, “Could stretching your hip flexors cause you more harm than good? One might consider this question the next time they perform their routine hip flexor stretch.

The “hip flexors” are composed of several different muscles. Usually people think of the Illiopsoas (or Psoas) muscle right away when identifying with the hip flexors because this is the name they heard before. One of the main differences between the psoas muscle and the other hip flexors is where it originates or attaches to the skeleton. The psoas originates on the vertebrae of the lower spine (L1-L5).   This is important because it has a direct influence on the function of the spine. The other hip flexor muscles do not attach directly to the spine, therefore, they have an indirect influence on it.

Other questions to consider are, “How do you know which hip flexor muscle is tight? Are they all tight? How do you know? What if one or more of the hip flexors are weak? If they are, is it good to stretch a weak muscle? The answer is a resounding NO! What if the Psoas muscle, which attaches directly to the spine, is weak? What if the actual cause of your back pain is because the Psoas muscle is weak causing instability in the spine? And what if the reason why you feel tight muscles when doing the “hip flexor stretch” is because the body is tightening up other muscles in order to try and provide more stability to the spine? Wow, that’s a lot of questions to consider!

In my education and experience as a Muscle Activation Technique (MAT) Specialist, I realize our nervous system continuously monitors tension throughout the body. If there’s instability somewhere in the body, then there’s weakness. To compensate for the weakness, the nervous system will tighten other muscles in order to provide more stability. It’s your very own internal defense mechanism! This is a fabulous solution in the short term because it can help us prevent injury. However, in the long term, if the specific muscle weakness is not addressed, issues can develop such as pain, uneven joint wear, chronic inflammation, muscle strains, etc…

So, that brings us back to the question, “should you be stretching your hip flexors”? Hopefully now you will at least consider and question why you feel “tight” in the first place and make your own decision on whether or not you should stretch.

If you are interested in finding out more about our exciting new Muscle Activation Technique service, or would like to schedule a FREE evaluation, please contact Centegra Health Bridge MAT Specialist, Brad Boelkens at 815-444-2948 or bboelkens@healthbridgefitness.com.

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