It’s a pretty easy statement to make that stiff and sore muscles are annoying, but that’s never more true than when it’s your hips. That’s because you can’t get away from it, with sore hips making even walking, let alone other forms of exercise, very painful.
What we refer to as the ‘hips’ are actually lots of different muscles, joints and bones. A ball and socket joint that attaches the femur (or the thigh bone) to the pelvis is what we usually talk about when discussing the hips, but your glutes, abductors and adductors also come into it too. Then there’s your hip flexor: it’s this guy that can cause the tight pain down the top, front of your legs that we often associate with sore hips.
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“Hip flexors are not only responsible for moving your legs around but they also belong to your ‘core’ muscles that stabilise your hips and spine,” explains Ruth Woodside, personal trainer, strength and movement coach and founder of calisthenics studio MOVE Hackney.
Why do our hips get tight?
Ok, this is a big question. There are so many reasons why our muscles and joints might be tight, from arthritis to an injury, but the most likely cause when it comes to hips is the amount of time we spend sat down, says Ruth. “This leads to shortening of the hip flexors, which often goes hand in hand with weak glute muscles, leading to postural problems, low back issues and knee pain.”
Women in particular can find that they get sore hips, as they may find that inflammation in the pelvis or reproductive organs during their menstrual cycle impacts on the joint and muscles.
And stress might be a big reason too, as there is a school of thought that says we hold a lot of “negative emotional energy in our hips,” says Ruth. “My personal understanding is, as humans, we hold tension everywhere in our bodies when we are stressed, whether it’s physical or emotional. When our muscles are tensed for long periods of time, your body responds with pain to tell you to stop. If we already have an imbalance in the hip area, we may feel pain there.”
Should you stretch tight hips?
As short hip flexors can lead to pain, stretching them out is important in order to release tension. “But it is equally important to strengthen those muscles too,” says Ruth. “Stretching without strengthening can lead to further imbalances and injuries.”
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She suggests starting to mobilise and strengthen the muscles and joints by holding a few minutes in a resting squat, allowing the psoas (or primary hip flexor) to relax fully. “Some good strengthening drills I like are dead bugs, hip bridges, leg raises and squat variations. I mean who doesn’t love squats?” she says.
Finish up with what Ruth calls “maintenance stretches”: a kneeling lunge pushing the hip of the back leg forward, a kneeling quad stretch (in the same lunge position, grabbing the back leg and pulling towards you), plus hamstring stretches and pigeon pose to stretch the glute.
“With any mobility work, I would recommend doing it every day. It doesn’t have to be hour long sessions, a little each day makes a lot of difference,” she says.
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