If you’re experiencing any hip flexor tightness or PSOAS muscle pain that radiates to the groin area, then you’ve come to the right place. I’m going to explain to you, in very simple terms, why you’re experiencing this chronic hip tightness causing the PSOAS to spasm, and how to unlock your hips using effective myofascial release techniques.
The Hip Flexors
So what are the hip flexors? In general, any muscle that produces flexion at the hip joint is called a hip flexor. I want this post to be easy to understand so I’m going to provide a simple description of the 7 main hip flexors. If you’d like to dive deep into the hip anatomy, I’ll include some reference for you at the end of this post!
- Iliacus: as shown in the image below. This is a flat muscle that lies flat on the iliac fossa. It’s shaped like a triangle. The iliacus and Psoas major form the iliopsoas muscle.
- PSOAS major: the biggest and main hip flexor muscle. This muscle plays a major role in stabilizing the spine. When the psoas gets tight and short, it affects pelvic alignment and posture. For example, an anterior pelvic tilt is a good indication that the PSOAS is tight and short.
- Rectus femoris: This muscle is part of the quadriceps muscle group (it runs down the thigh). It is also a hip flexor (when you flex your hips, the quad muscle also plays a role in that flexion).
- Sartorius: this is a thin muscle that runs along the thigh. It’s also the longest muscle in the human body. It contributes to hip and leg flexion.
- Adductor complex: Consists of the adductor brevis, adductor longus, and adductor magnus. The main function of these muscles is to adduct and flex the thigh. When these muscles get tight they affect hip alignment and daily movement.
- Gracilis: the gracilis is also a hip adductor and contributes to leg flexion due to its attachment to the tibia.
- Tensor Fascia Latae (TFL): the TFL muscle is enclosed in two layers of fascia and has multiple functions because of its location. This muscle does a lot… It fires up in all 3 planes of motion (adduction, rotation, and flexion) and tends to get extremely tight as a result.
I have a step-by-step video tutorial to show you how to release the TFL. Don’t ignore the TFL, it gets chronically tight and can be the main source of hip pain. Don’t ignore it.
Now that we’ve covered the muscles that form the hip flexors, and we know where they’re located, we can then work on releasing them. It’s very important to familiarize yourself with the anatomy of your hips because then you know how to target these muscles properly.
The Anatomy Of The PSOAS Muscle
The PSOAS muscle is the biggest and main hip flexor. It attaches to the spine, more specifically the first and fourth lumbar vertebrae) L1 to L4. I found a great video below that shows you exactly what this means:
Origin: the PSOAS major muscle is part of the iliopsoas muscle (PSOAS combines with the Iliacus). The PSOAS muscle originates from the transverse and lateral surface of the last thoracic vertebrae and intervertebral discs. The deeper segment originates from the lumbar vertebrae and intervertebral discs.
Insertion: The lesser trochanter receives the insertion of the PSOAS muscle. The trochanter is part of the femur bone and serves as a muscle attachment site.
Causes Of Tight Hips
Here are the two main reasons your hips are very tight:
The hip flexors are tonic muscles. Tonic muscles respond to load by shortening and tightening. Tonic muscles don’t need a lot of stimulation to fire up. As a result, they get tight and overactive very quickly.
This normally shouldn’t be an issue if we’re constantly moving and engaging in proper exercise and maintaining hip balance. But that’s not the case…
Most of us spend the majority of our time sitting. Sitting puts the hips and legs in a flexed position for a very long period of time. This causes the hips to get “locked” in that position and turns into chronic tightness.
There is also another problem. Chronically tight hips will have a huge effect on joint alignment. And because the body is a kinetic chain, an anteriorly tilted pelvis will have an effect on the upper back as well as the knee and ankle joints.
This results in muscular imbalance and postural problems causing psoas or groin pain and lower back pain.
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How To Unlock Your Hip Flexors
I’m sure by now you acknowledge the importance of maintaining hip balance. The first step now is to release tightness. The second step is to address hip weaknesses. Our goal is to maintain muscular balance and avoid both weakness and extreme tightness that can the muscles to shorten and affect joint alignment.
Sitting automatically shuts the glutes off (and the whole posterior chain). We end up with extremely tight hip flexors and very weak glutes. A disastrous situation that will, almost certainly, lead to pelvic dysfunction and lower back pain.
Hip Flexors Release
I have a full video tutorial so you can follow along with me. Scroll down below the video to read the instructions and a few important notes to keep in mind when stretching so you don’t make the pain worse.
I like to start by releasing the quads first, specifically the rectus femoris. As I’m putting pressure against the roller, I like to rotate slightly inward to target the gracilis and hip adductor muscles.
Place the roller underneath your thigh (while you’re still on your belly) and roll up and down the adductors to release any trigger points. If you feel any tender points, press against the roller for about 20-30 seconds while taking a few deep breaths. Then move to the other side.
How To Properly Release The PSOAS Muscle
If you’re experiencing psoas muscle pain, I suggest you skip stretching as a way to get relief. Stretching may make the pain worse if the muscle is spasming. A better way is to inhibit the psoas first with self-myofascial release.
And to do that, I prefer to use this massage ball because it can reach deep into the muscle than the foam roller can.
Massage Ball Release:
Here’s how to release the PSOAS muscle: Place the ball first on your belly button (don’t press or anything, of course, this is just to help us locate the Psoas), then move the ball about 3-5 cm to the side then about 2-3 cm down.
Now, lie on the ball and move it slightly up and down until you feel a tender spot. You’ll probably feel a lot of tightness and discomfort in that area if this is your first time doing this. You can move the ball further down and again look for any tender spots. Once you start to feel more comfortable, move the ball to the other side and follow the same instructions.
It’s very common for one side to be tighter than the other. Take deep belly breaths and try to relex! If it’s extremely tight and you’re feeling uncomfortable, just press against your knees to elevate yourself a bit. You’re in full control of the pressure you want to place on the ball. So don’t hesitate to adjust the pressure.
A common stretch performed to release the hip flexors is the lunge stretch. I’m sure you know the one… When you lunge with the knee on the floor and you lean forward to open up the hips. The problem with this stretch is that you’re going to mainly be releasing the quad muscles (rectus femoris) and maybe a tiny bit of your hips. You’re not fully releasing the PSOAS. Here’s why…
When you move from starting position to the stretch position, there is no change in angle at the hips. The best way to release the psoas in this stretch is by following these important steps:
- After you lunge down. Don’t immediately lean forward.
- Squeeze the glute muscles of the hip being stretched.
- You should feel a stretch in the PSOAS by now.
- Slightly tilt your pelvis backward (by bringing your belly button in)
- By now you should feel the Psoas elongating and being stretched.
- You can then lean forward slightly, but you really don’t need to!
I also have a video to show you how to do this properly.
Once you fully release the hip flexors, you should start feeling relief from Psoas pain. The most important thing now is to maintain hip balance and avoid chronic tightness again. In addition, it’s important to also strengthen the glutes to avoid hip dysfunction and pain.
The stability of the lumbopelvic-hip complex relies on balanced hips, strong muscles that are functioning properly and synergetically. Any imbalance in one area will create compensation, pain in the lower back, piriformis and hips and will increases the risk of injury.
If you have a desk job or find yourself sitting for long hours each day, set up a timer on your phone to get up and move around every 15-20 minutes. Sitting for 8-10 hours a day will have a huge effect on your posture…the joints and muscles will adapt to that posture leading to a lot of muscular imbalances.
Stretching shouldn’t be the one and only solution to tight hips. It’s just one of the tools to help you release the tightness that built up from chronic hip flexion. So if you’re experiencing pain and tightness and no amount of stretching is helping you, I highly suggest you look deeper at the underlying muscular imbalances and postural issues that need to be fixed.
The definition of insanity is to repeat the same thing every time and expect different results.
Recommended products: The Back Pain Bootcamp
Right now, I want you to focus on adding stability and support to your hips. Once you go through the PSOAS release routine, spend some time activating the glutes. Here’s a free glute strengthening plan to start with:
To read more about the PSOAS anatomy and function, click here.