Hips don’t get the care and attention they deserve. After long hours of sitting all day, every day, without the time spent stretching or strengthening them, your hips can turn into unhappy campers—and this could spell trouble down the road.
When you’re inactive for long periods—think sitting at your desk, commuting, or watching TV for hours—the muscles that move and stabilize your hips can get tight (or, more technically, short). A large muscle group called the hip flexors—which originate in your low back and cross over your hips and are largely responsible for hip flexion (any knee-to-chest movement)—can tighten and constrict when they aren’t stretched, strengthen, and utilized (or moved) frequently enough.
When the hips get tight and neglected, you can actually develop low back pain, says Marty Matney, LAT, ATC, an athletic trainer in Seattle and chair of the National Athletic Trainer’s Association Council on Practice Advancement. Matney adds that many other smaller muscles that act on the hip can become tight from inactivity too. The body mechanics are complex, but when your hip flexors are tight, it affects pelvic and spinal alignment, and the lower back may take on more than it’s able to, and boom, back pain. If hip tightness gets left unchecked and worsens, you can experience changes in the movement and function of your hip joint as you walk, which can lead to painful hip osteoarthritis. (In the worst case, you may need surgery.)
So how do you know if your hips are tight? There are some telltale signs, Matney says: having trouble going from sitting to standing, followed by a few difficult steps; walking in a slightly bent position or having trouble going up or down stairs; and feeling sore in the front of your hip or low back. Knee pain might even result, largely because that tightness causes changes in your gait.
The solution is simple: Break that cycle of inactivity and move, which will help increase hip flexibility and mobility. The benefits? “With more hip flexibility, you’ll have easier transitions from sitting to standing, walking will be easier, and you’ll have less pain in your hips and low back,” Matney says.
The Best Daily Hip Stretches
To make those hips and surrounding muscles a little happier, do the following five-stretch routine, created by Matney. Hold each hip stretch for 20 to 30 seconds and repeat on each two or three times (don’t forget to breathe deeply), completing the whole sequence two or three times a day.
To Stretch Hip Flexors: Lunges
Start by standing with feet together. Step right leg back until heel is flat on floor; then lift up on ball of right foot. Keeping back straight and head up, lower heel down slightly until you feel a stretch in right hip flexor. Hold. Release and switch sides.
To Stretch Hamstrings: Single-Leg Standing Hamstring Stretch
Standing with feet together, place right heel on floor and flex right foot toward you. As you do this, slowly lean forward from hips (hands can be on hips if you prefer) until you feel a stretch in the back of right leg. Hold. Release and switch sides.
To Stretch Outer Hips and Glutes: Figure 4 Stretch
For this hip-opening stretch, lie face up on your back, knees bent, and feet on floor. Place right foot on left thigh, right above left knee. With left hand, grasp right knee, pulling it gently toward chest and then left shoulder. Hold. Release and switch sides.
To Stretch Inner Thighs (Hip Adductors): Side Lunge Stretch
Stand with feet wider than shoulder-width. Keeping left foot pointed straight ahead on floor, shift weight to right foot until you feel stretch in inner thigh. If you don’t feel it, widen the legs a little. Hold. Release and switch sides.
To Stretch Outer Thigh and Hips: Standing IT Band Stretch
From standing position, cross right leg over left leg, left hand supported by wall or desk. Keeping right leg and back straight, push right hip out. If you need to bend left knee, that’s okay. Hold. Release and switch sides.