Feb 2, 2022
Health & Fitness

6 Reasons You May Have Hip Pain When Kicking

6 Reasons You May Have Hip Pain When Kicking

Do you have unmanageable hip pain after going to the gym for martial arts or kickboxing class? Do you experience hip pain when kicking a soccer ball or a football?

You’re not alone. In fact, as a physical therapist, I see ‘kickers’ in my office all the time. Hip flexor pain when kicking is common.

The truth is, when you participate in any kicking activity repeatedly (liake soccer, football, martial arts, or kickboxing) it can put a lot of strain on your hip flexors, quads, tendons, and joints. And, the bigger and/or more unnatural the motion, the more likely you are to be feeling some soreness or tightness afterward.

That’s not to say it’s unnatural for our bodies to make a kicking motion.

In fact, you could say the contrary. Because the muscles that help connect your thigh to your pelvic bone (known as your psoas and iliacus muscles) are literally made to stretch and contract, allowing you to swing your leg forward and backward from your hip joint. This is how you walk, run, and kick.

But, if you play soccer, football, or any other sport that repeatedly requires this motion - especially when combined with fast, extreme, or one sided movements and/or fatigue - you may be overusing and tightening those muscles

How does the iliopsoas muscle work?

Your psoas muscle and iliacus muscle are two large muscles that sit side by side on both legs. They connect to the inner side of your pelvic bone and spine, then to the inner groin, and finally to the upper side of your knee or thigh.

Together, these two muscles are called the iliopsoas muscle when referred to together and are referred to as “hip flexors”, and they are at the core of most of the movements we do throughout the day.

anatomy illustration of the psoas and iliacus muscles

Usually, you don’t think much about your iliopsoas muscles. You unknowingly contract them to sit upright in your seat and lift yourself out of bed in the morning. Even when you are setting yourself up for a game-winning kick, you might be thinking more about tightening your core and watching your steps than contracting your iliopsoas muscles.

But, if you kick a ball around day in and day out, and are starting to feel some pain or tightness in your hips, it’s time to start understanding what triggers might be irritating your iliopsoas muscles.

Before I get into some of the potential causes of your hip flexor pain, I’ll say that it’s not all bad news.

Many of these issues can be corrected by being more aware of your body, your mobility, your training habits, and your recovery routine. And I truly believe all of these causes of hip pain in sports with kicking motions can be corrected without the use of medications or drastic interventions.

What causes hip pain when kicking?

While it is easy to recognize when your hip is in pain, it can be more difficult to pinpoint the root cause.

If you’re a soccer player, kickboxer, martial arts practitioner, or member of any other sport that involves routine and repetitive kicking movements, then these are the most common culprits that could be causing you hip pain.

1. Poor flexibility

Sometimes, your hip pain is a result of going right into a workout when your muscles are cold. But other times, there’s a bigger flexibility issue. And it’s not always in your control.

There are some people who have more natural stores of collagen in the soft tissues which, explained in simple terms, is like the sticky glue that holds our ligaments, tendons, joints and bones together. And there are some people who have more elastin in their bodies, which is the stretchy counterpart to collagen.

All of our bodies have both, but the ratio of collagen to elastin varies from person to person. And it is possible to improve your flexibility, but if you are naturally not very flexible, your iliopsoas muscles will need more slow, gentle stretches and require a bit more time to do all the movements you want to.

In both situations - having cold muscles and having limited flexibility - you may not have access to a full range of motion in your hips. So, when you go to kick, it’s like trying to snap a very tight rubber band. It could snap very quickly, or other parts of your body may start to overcompensate for the lack of mobility. You could also injure yourself by kicking too aggressively and overreaching your body’s current limitations.

If you took some time off from training, and are just getting back into it, you might struggle with your range of motion more than usual. It can take time to loosen up your muscles again, but it’s very important to give your body that extra time it needs to get back to the level of flexibility you had - gradually and in a healthy way.

Use active hip flexor stretches and gradual movements to encourage your iliopsoas muscles to release, staying happy and relaxed. It’s not uncommon for even the most flexible of athletes to experience tight hip muscles, especially tight hip flexors. But, if that’s you, your problem may actually be...

2. Too much stretching

It seems weird to think you could be stretching too much or be too flexible - especially when you’re thinking about trying to achieve a big kick with a full range of motion. But what you think of as a “full range of motion” could very well be over-extending or an excessive range of motion when it comes to your iliopsoas muscles.

In fact, I see just as many cases of hyper-mobility causing tight and painful hip flexors in my office as I do sedentary lifestyles.

Here’s why: it’s fairly common for athletes to strive for more flexibility or push past pain or tension they may have, thinking it’s a part of the training process and getting into shape. However, if you’re feeling tightness in your hip flexors after a game or workout, it’s more likely that those muscles are working hard to stabilize and hold together a too mobile part of the body. This is especially true the higher a kick is and the more one leg is going forward with the other one reaching behind you.

3. Lack of physical conditioning

In direct correlation to range of motion, an overall lack of physical conditioning can affect how your hips feel after exercise. If you haven’t been able to get to the gym, or were on the bench due to an injury, it is best to take it slow and ease back into things.

It can be frustrating to not be at the same level as you were before, especially if you previously had a strong side-kick. But, going too hard too quickly is one of the easiest ways to injure yourself - and keep you on the bench even longer.

Lack of physical conditioning can also cause hip pain when you learn a new movement or skill. For instance, when you are practicing martial arts, you may learn new kicking styles or techniques as you progress that cause you hip pain when kicking.

In most teaching settings, you will have a strict breakdown of form and technique before getting to the full kicking motion. However, if you ever practice alone, you may be tempted to kick with no resistance or may forget about that perfect form as you get tired further along in your workout.

This can easily overexert your iliopsoas muscles.

What’s worse, because this is a new movement, your hip is not physically conditioned to move in that way. You may not have built up enough strength to support the momentum.

This same issue can occur with soccer, football, and any other sport where kicking is the main component. The goal should be to build enough strength to have a controlled kick, not to use speed or sheer force to propel your leg forward.

4. Skipping warm-up/cooldown activities

As with any physical activity, prepping your muscles before and cooling them down after exercise may help reduce tightness and even injury. When you participate in activities with motions as explosive and powerful as kicking, priming your hip muscles could not only provide more ease of motion, but give you more control and strength as well.

Although many people think the main reason for warming up and cooling down is to ease your heart in and out of high-level activities, it also helps regulate blood flow in your muscles and joints. When you warm-up before physical activities, the extra blood flow to your joints and muscles prepares them for strenuous movements like kicking, and staves off overuse injuries.

Throughout the warm-up, you may complete a combination of cardio, stretching, and strength exercises that slowly increase in intensity. You should make sure you are including a series of gentle but active stretches that help open your hip flexors and prepare them for more demanding activities. Moving those muscles slowly and progressing to fast motions prepare the hip for the explosive activity you are asking of it.

Specifically stretching and releasing the tension of the iliacus and psoas before any kicking activity is ideal. This is exactly what I designed the Hip Hook to do. Following that release with the realignment exercise if your pelvis is out of alignment gets the body ready to play and the hip flexor muscles ready for action.

Tight muscles act weak, even when they have the muscle fibers to be strong. Getting them to relax prior to using them is giving that hip the best chance for success.

Cooldowns are equally as important as warm-ups. A gradual cooldown eases your body into recovery, and should always include stretching at the very end. Just remember to listen to your body! Your muscles and body temperature are warmer, so you will probably be able to stretch deeper. But, just because you can doesn’t always mean you should.

If you tend to have a tight hip flexor, the end of the activity is a perfect time to release the tension there with a stretch or prolonged pressure technique like the Hip Hook. Doing the realignment exercise after activity if you pelvis is rotated will help set an aligned you for the rest of your day. I talk about this in detail in my book as well.

5. Skimping on recovery time

When we have some good, hard workouts, a big game, or are training for one, it can be hard to slow down that momentum. But, whether you’re a professional athlete, or just someone that loves the sport, your body needs time to rest and recover.

This is especially true if you are performing high-intensity, explosive, or repetitive movements like kicking. This is a perfect time to make sure your hip flexors are relaxed, soft, and supple with prolonged pressure with the Hip Hook. Happy muscles are relaxed and don’t hurt.

Recovery time is excellent for your cognitive functions as well as your muscles. If you are going into practices or training sessions with a clear and focused mind, you are better equipped to stay mindful of your form, know your limits, and perform high-risk movements with a lower risk of injury.  

6. Poor form or incorrect technique

I’ve mentioned this one a few times throughout this post. But it’s worth having its own call-out.

Anytime you are exercising, your form and technique should be a primary focus. If you’ve had poor form in the past and are attempting to correct it, you may notice that you can’t kick as well or lift as much weight, but that’s an indicator you were not activating the right muscles.

In addition, if you are performing with a twisted core and pelvis, your body is out of alignment. Your muscles will be uncoordinated and weak and your joints are set up for unnatural wear and tear. Part of good technique is being aligned and balanced in your body to start. A tight hip twists the core and this twist sets us up for poor technique no matter what you do.

So, slow down if you have to. Decrease the weight and intensity of your workout.

Because putting a focus on correct form and technique will prevent you from forming more bad habits and help you to avoid unnecessary injuries in the future.

It may take time for a lousy kicking technique to manifest into an injury. And it may never become a full injury. But, it’s always a good idea to have a coach, peer, or mentor critique your kick and help set you - and your iliopsoas muscles - up for success.

What injuries cause hip pain after football, martial arts, or kickboxing practice?

Most athletes who come to me with hip pain from kicking have a mix of the above issues occurring. It’s seldom just one thing - or one game - that causes your iliopsoas muscles to make themselves known.

But, when they do, here are some of the most common injuries in athletes that participate in kicking activities:

  • Muscle strain: If your muscles are not prepared for the extent of a muscle contraction, it can cause strains, tears, and pulling. This is the most common type of hip injury in athletes, especially with sudden and unexpected motions.
  • Hip Bursitis: When the bursa on the outside of the hip joint gets inflamed, it causes pressure and pain within the hip, groin, and thigh areas. It’s important to catch this early, as it can become a chronic issue.  
  • Hip labral tears: Your labrum helps support your hip joint and hold the ball in the socket as it is a thick layer of tissue surrounding the hip socket. While injury to the labrum often occurs due to trauma in contact sports like football or rugby, the act of kicking can accentuate the problem. Chronic excessive pressure to the labrum will wear away at the labrum until one day it ends up tearing.
  • Osteitis pubis: A common injury in soccer/football players, osteitis pubis occurs with the repetitive pulling of muscles in the front of your hip joint. This causes irritation to the pubic joint where they attach.

So, now you know what might be causing your hip pain when kicking - but how do you treat it?

Treat unresolved hip pain the right way

Most of us have used a foam roller or gone to a massage to loosen our muscles after a hard workout. But, getting deep into our hip muscles can be difficult.

One of the most innovative tools to address this is the Hip Hook, a tool I designed to mimic the trained hands of a physical therapist and effectively release your iliacus muscle where it connects to the pelvic bone and the psoas muscle’s tightness. The Hip Hook is the world’s first at-home psoas AND iliacus release tool and it uses your own body weight to apply the right angle and pressure needed to release your hip muscles.

As a “kicker,” most of your hip pain is likely being caused by an iliacus or psoas muscle that won’t relax its grip on your body. The good news is, releasing that muscle may provide almost instant relief. It could not only potentially address pain in your hip flexors, but also could increase your range of motion when it comes to kicking.

In addition to developing the Hip Hook, I’ve also written the book Tight Hip, Twisted Core, which gives specific and targeted ways to help you treat your hip pain without medication. Whether you are experiencing hip pain kicking a soccer ball, or when practicing martial arts, it’s key to find a remedy that doesn’t take away your joy for the sport.

Frequently asked questions about hip pain when kicking

Why does my hip hurt when I kick a soccer ball?

A common injury that develops in soccer players is a hip flexor strain. This is because the hip flexor muscles, like your psoas and iliacus, are used consistently as you run, sprint, cut, and kick when playing soccer. This can create pain at the front of the hip and even in the groin region.

What does a strained hip flexor feel like?

Many people who are dealing with a hip flexor strain may feel a sharp pain when performing sudden or explosive movements, such as kicking or sprinting. This may occur when lifting the leg into hip flexion or when moving the leg behind you into hip extension. Additional feelings of soreness, stiffness, or weakness may be present even when at rest.