Hip pain is a very common ailment for runners. It is highly debilitating and can put a halt to your training goals. So, here we will look at a common hip injury: hip flexor strain or tendonitis, as well as milder hip flexor tightness; what the possible causes are, how you can alleviate the problem and prevent recurrence.
For information and guidance on other types of Hip Pain check out Hip Pain from Running.
WHAT ARE HIP FLEXORS?
Hip flexors are a group of muscles and tendons on the anterior (front) of your hip joint, linking your legs to your pelvis. They move your thighs forwards and upwards, influencing the movement between your torso and legs. They effect the smoothness of your stride, feed into your quads, affect your hamstrings, and if they're tight, affect the spine and cause lower back pain.
There can be myriad reasons. Number one being that you’ve got a hip flexor strain or tendonitis due to:
- Overuse from repetitive motion
- Increase in speed work or hill sessions
- Poor biomechanics
- The wrong support in your running shoes (See our Natural Gait Analysis service)
- Too much sitting desk bound leading to a shortening of the hip flexors
- Lower back pain / weakness that puts extra strain on hip flexors
- Overuse of the Psoas muscle which pulls on the connecting tendons
- Over-energetic stomach crunches causing upset to the Psoas
- Groin strain
- Stress fracture in your hip
The good news is there are many positive things you can do, from hip flexor specific stretches and mobilisation to exercises targeting weaknesses that often lead to hip flexor injury.
Don’t forget the benefit of rest initially for any injury / pain, dial back on any exercises that irritate it and concentrate on stretching, strengthening and making sure you’ve got the correct running shoes for when you go back to running.
Watch the video to see three excellent hip flexor stretches:
There are some hip flexor exercises but in most cases the strength needs to be built in other muscles to take the excess strain off the hip flexors.
- Hip abductors, particularly Gluteus medius which in turn will improve your biomechanics.
See: 360° Hip Exercises with bands for runners
- Core muscles, which will also improve your biomechanics.
See: Transform your core in just 3 minutes (a day)
See Why should runners should do pilates?
- General body mobilisation and warm up.
See: 7 Key Movements for Running Injury Prevention
- Get assessed by a Chi Running biomechanic
See: Running Technique Coaching
What are the symptoms of Hip Flexor strain?
- Pain or tightness when you lift your knee up towards hip height
- Heavy leg sensation when lifting your knee
- Pain in the hip flexors when running or doing gym exercises involving lifting your knees up
- A shorter stride
- In more extreme cases a limp
- Tightness is worse in the morning or after sitting for a while
Should you stretch a hip flexor strain?
Initially, when the area is inflamed, no. Just rest, stop running and ideally go to your physio. Once it’s less painful you can start gentle stretches, like those in the video, easing into the stretch rather than jerking. Take pain as your guide: some pain but also a feeling of ‘that feels good’ release is perfect; pain that has you gasping, not a good idea!
How long to rest a hip flexor injury?
Rest initially, whilst the pain is intense, and then get to work to balance your body’s biomechanics and build strength so you can fulfil your running potential. Always listen to your body and then educate yourself to know what it needs to feel happier. A visit to a good physiotherapist is always a GOOD idea.
Having been a sufferer of hip flexor tightness for decades, I’ve learnt that it’s all about management. If I stopped running every time it hit, I’d never do another Ultra race. Instead, I consistently work on my core muscles, do weekly sessions on my perennially lazy glutes, run conscious of my posture, following the Chi running form techniques, and STRETCH after every run.
These are exercises that we've found very useful and want to share with our customers. But we're not certified instructors. Always consult your specialist before beginning any exercise programme. This general information is not intended to diagnose any medical condition or to replace your healthcare professional. Consult with your healthcare professional to design an appropriate exercise prescription. If you experience any pain or difficulty with these exercises, stop and consult your healthcare provider.