Mar 24, 2022
Posture & Alignment

5 Common Signs That You Have Tight Hip Flexors

5 Common Signs That You Have Tight Hip Flexors

Having "tight hip flexors" is a buzzing phrase that you’ve probably heard before, whether it be while talking to a friend at the gym or a co-worker in the office.

The hip flexors, also known as the anterior hip musculature, can tighten and lack mobility. They can hugely impact your lower and upper body functioning and contribute to many different orthopedic diagnoses.

You may be wondering "are my hip flexors really tight?"

Those who can confidently answer this question probably stretch and leverage tools or other exercises to make the stretches more effective. But if you don't know it, you'll want to learn the potential impact that tight hip flexors can have on your body and implement the appropriate remedies before these muscles cause pain or an injury.

Why You Should Care if Your Hip Flexors Are Tight

Hip flexor tightness is extremely common, and its origin mostly comes down to lifestyle factors. The primary causes include a sedentary life where you're seated all day, intense workout sessions or activities that use the hip flexors a lot, or compensations and muscle imbalances that developed after a prior injury.

Tight hip flexors can significantly hinder the muscles responsible for hip extension, which is when your leg and hip go behind your body (such as when walking or running). The gluteus maximus is one of these muscles that becomes inhibited by a tight hip flexor.

The glutes are very important as it relates to the function, movement, and alignment of your body. They are large and powerful muscles that provide stability for the hips and pelvis, which also supports the alignment of the lower back and knees.

When movement is lacking from the hips, the body looks to make up for this movement in other ways. Typically this comes from areas that shouldn’t have excess movement, like the lumbar spine and knees, and this could increase the risk of pain or injury.

In addition to affecting body functions, tight hip flexors can also alter a person's posture and cause hip pain when driving or hip pain when sleeping.

Top Five Signs That You Have Tight Hip Flexors

There are several tests that can help you determine whether your hip flexors are tight or not. It's important to note that while many people might suspect tight hip flexors are the problem, there may be other reasons contributing to the sensations they're experiencing.

While the best option is to visit a medical practitioner for an in-person assessment, you can still find out for yourself. Here are 5 signs that indicate you have tight hip flexors (see video here).

1. Misalignment of the leg when standing

Tight hip flexors affect the alignment of the pelvis and the leg where they connect at the hip joint.

When the iliacus muscle is tight, it will pull the pelvic bone forward, thus changing how the hip bone fits into the socket and how your femur (thigh bone) and tibia (lower leg) align. This will cause the knee to rotate inwards and even hyperextend on that side.

Further down the same leg, the foot and ankle will typically rotate inward. This creates what is known as over-pronation of the foot, something that increases your chances for developing a bunion on the affected foot.  

2. Tenderness when pressing into the hip flexors

You can also quickly tell how tight your hip flexors are simply by touching the spot while you are lying down. Happy muscles don’t hurt when pressed on. The hip flexors should be relaxed when you're at rest, but this won't be the case if you have a tight psoas and iliacus muscle. Instead, they’ll remain at least partially contracted and it may feel like your lower back is arching too much off of the ground.

So lie on your back. Place your fingers on the front of your pelvic bone, and then start moving them inwards and press down into your body. If you feel tension there, it could signify that your hip flexors are tight and causing discomfort in the region.

3. One Foot Tends to Rotate Out More Than the Other

Checking your body posture when lying down is another effective way to tell the signs of hip flexor tightness. So stay flat on the ground and relax, letting your legs and feet turn out to the sides. Look down at your feet to see their positioning. If one of your feet seems to face outward more than the other, it could signify that side of your body has a tighter hip flexor.

In addition to hip flexion, the iliacus and psoas muscles help with external rotation of the hip joint. Tension in these muscles typically also creates tightness in the piriformis muscle, another hip external rotator that is located on the back side of your hip. Together, these muscles turn the leg out when at rest when lying on your back. The foot will also turn out more in the swing phase of the affected leg when walking or running.

4. You feel a pinch in the hip joint when bringing your knee to your chest

Laying down and drawing one of your knees towards your chest can help you find out if there are any problems around your hip joint. When making this leg movement in a resting position, a pinch is a critical indicator of a tight psoas and iliacus.

Tight hip flexors cause a forward rotation of the pelvis, which effectively closes off the joint space in the hip socket. This reduces the range of motion the hip can move into flexion. As a result, you'll get a pinch at the end. Releasing the tension in the hip flexors will diminish the pinch when re-performing this test.

5. You feel popping, clunking, or clicking in the hip when moving your leg

The final way to determine whether you have a tight hip flexor is to check for a pop or clunk during simple exercises like raising and lowering your leg (or both) as you lay on your back. This clunk typically happens when you move your hip through different ranges of motion or in circles.

A healthy hip flexor is able to contract and relax in a way that allows the hip joint to move smoothly within the hip socket. The snapping hip sensation shows that the hip flexor muscles can't lengthen out sufficiently to glide over your moving hip joint.

Next Steps: How to Reduce Tightness in Your Hip Flexors

How did each of the 5 tests go? If any of them led to a positive test, it could be a sign that your hip flexors are tight. Having many positive tests could mean that the muscles have been tight for a longer period of time. Thus, it would be best to begin working on that as soon as possible to avoid further compensation, discomfort, and the potential for future pain or injury.

Several recommended approaches can help you reduce your hip flexor tightness. For instance, you might start by adding some hip flexor stretches into your daily routine to help improve blood flow in the region. During the day, taking breaks from long working hours to walk and move around can help.

If you find that your stretches and work breaks are more short-term and the tightness keeps coming back, it may be time to consider applying pressure to your hip flexors first, which can help make your stretches and exercises more effective.

Leveraging a hip flexor release tool such as the Hip Hook allows you to apply pressure to both your psoas and iliacus muscles in a way that lacrosse balls and other tools simply can’t. The tip of the Hip Hook mimics that of a skilled therapist's thumb, and the tool’s ability to rotate allows you to access your hip flexor muscles from all of the best angles needed for an effective release.

woman using the Hip Hook hip flexor release tool