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How to Open and Unlock Tight Hips

People, healthcare and problem concept - woman suffering from pain in back or reins outdoor

Authored by Ty Bostic NASM- CES, TRS-S – Fitness Instructor at Hilton Head Health

I want you to take a moment and think of your body as a road system with major highways and small roads traveling all over.  Where would your major intersections be located?  What would happen if these intersections got congested or backed up with traffic? Would this block the small roadways? Would there be traffic jams and collisions? For certain, I can tell you that if you were viewing the body as a road map the Northern major intersection would be located at the shoulders (small roads; neck, elbows, wrist, and fingers), while the Southern major intersection would be the hip pelvic region (small roads; low back, knees, ankles, and toes). 

From a muscular standpoint, having a full range of motion in the hip region is equal to having full range of control. Hence, less congestion, less traffic build-up, and fewer roadblocks. These roadblocks I’m referring to can be experienced as pain in the lower extremities, muscular imbalances, joint dysfunction, or limited range of motion.  Healthy and mobile hips are vital for an unrestricted pain-free flowing highway within the body. Let’s take a look at how the hips can easily get restricted, and how we can help you at Hilton Head Health to clear that major intersection through self-myofascial release, so you can keep traveling the road to a healthy journey. 

Are My Hips Tight? 

For most people, the biggest cause of tightness is what we do all day long: sitting for too long is a major culprit in tightening the hip flexors. When you sit all day at a desk, the iliopsoas, in particular, shortens- making the hip flexors tight. Some individuals are also more prone to tightness. Runners use the hip flexors, especially the iliopsoas, to lift the leg up with each stride, and repeated shortening of the muscle isn’t compensated for by a lengthening movement. Runners tend to end up with tight hip flexors for this reason. Having a weak core can also be an issue that contributes to tight hip flexors. Because these muscles are connected to and stabilize the spine, they often take over when the core is not strong. This can lead to tightening and pain. 

The Importance of Self-Myofascial Release (SMR) 

Myofascial release of the piriformis, glutes, and hip flexors are a crucial component to “un-gluing” your muscles and tissue. Fascia is a connective tissue in the body that acts as a thick sheath surrounding the muscles, it can become thick like glue. Fascia can get tight just like the muscles that it surrounds. However, unlike muscles, stretching has little effect in releasing tightness in fascia. The only way to get a complete stretch and release for your fascia is to do some myofascial release upon your own as I will explain by using a tennis or lacrosse ball or also by having a manual myofascial release session in H3 recovery service.   

In the following, I’ll explain what muscles you can work on, keep in mind you can do this daily or at least once a week. 

Hip Complex

Your hip flexors are made up of the Psoas Major and the Iliacus. These muscles allow for flexion of the leg at the hip joint. Tightness leads directly to lower back pain since the psoas is connected to the lumbar 1-5 vertebrae. 

Iliacus: 

Iliacus

*To begin, lie down on the floor on your belly. 

*Place the tennis ball below your right hip bone. 

*Take small movements side to side until you find a tight spot. Hold for 120 seconds or longer until you feel the pain release and then move on. After you’ve completed the right side, switch to the left. 

Psoas Major: 

Psoas Major

*Begin kneeling on the floor. Place the tennis ball out in front of you and then lower yourself down onto the ball so that it rests directly inside of your pointy hip bone. 

*Let your weight rest on the ball and prop yourself up onto your forearms. It should feel as though the ball is pressing up and into your abdomen. 

*Take some small rolls forward and back, stopping for 120 seconds when you feel pain on the spot or in the lower back. 

SI Joint

This joint is a moveable joint that connects the sacrum to the iliac which is part of pelvis. 

SI Joint: 

SI Joint Stretch
Image from PaleoHacks.com

*To start, lie on your back with your knees bent and feet on the ground. 

*Lift your hips up and place two tennis balls beneath your pelvis about 2-4 inches apart. 

*Lie on the ball for 1-2 minutes with the legs straight out in front of you. You can play with moving the balls around to target different muscle fibers and find different points of tension. 

Piriformis 

The Piriformis muscle’s primary function is external hip rotation and hip abduction. Overuse such as quick changes in direction during sports or underuse especially sitting for long periods of time can cause trigger points to form in the piriformis. A tight piriformis can lead to impingement of the Sciatic nerve. 

Piriformis: 

Piriformis

*To begin, place the ball on the floor. 

*Sit on the ball so it’s positioned underneath the piriformis – right below the gluteus minimus – on the outside of your right hip. Your left leg should be straight out in front of you. Bend your right leg and cross the right ankle over your left thigh. 

*Take small circular movements around the area, hold for at least 120 seconds every time you find a knot or feel referred pain sensation. 

Glute Complex

The gluteal muscles consist of the gluteus maximus, medius, and minimus. Tight glutes can lead to hip pain, poor balance you can start by standing next to a wall holding your tennis ball. 

Glute Wall: 

Glute Wall

*Lean back against the wall. Place the ball behind you and position your piriformis over the ball. 

*Lean back against the ball and take small movements to roll the ball up and down, then side to side. 

*Pause for 120 seconds or until you feel the pain release when you find a tight spot and then move on.  

Seated glute roll: 

Seated glute roll

*Start by placing the ball on the floor. Then, sit down on the ball so that it’s pressing into the center of your right or left gluteal muscles. Crossing your leg is optional. 

*Straighten your right leg out in front of you and keep your left knee bent. Use your hands to control the amount of pressure you are applying on the ball. 

*Slowly roll in a circular motion on the ball, pausing for 120 seconds when you find a painful spot. As you continue to roll circularly, internally and externally rotate from the hip of the leg you are working on in order to find knotted up tissue that is hidden deep inside the hip joint. 

Ty Bostic
Fitness Instructor at Hilton Head Health

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