By: Dr. Alyssa Kuhn, Physical Therapist and Osteoarthritis Specialist
If you have a tight hip or hips because of arthritis or a past injury, stretching likely won’t produce the mobility results you’re searching for. Tell me if this situation sounds familiar:
The front of your hip feels tight after sitting for a long period of time and gets sore after walking a longer distance. You stretch it with some of the stretches you find on YouTube, but the tightness comes back hours, maybe even minutes later. Without being consistent with the stretches, your hip(s) remain stiff- you never seem to win.
Static stretching doesn’t typically result in long-term mobility gains. But it’s commonly one of the first things you try when you feel a tight muscle.
Why Static Stretching Is Not the Best Way to Loosen Tight Hips
Muscle tightness happens for a reason. Most of the time, it’s because your muscles try to compensate for muscle weaknesses or imbalances. Muscle tightness can also be secondary to pain which is common in osteoarthritis.
Two of the most common places for tightness I see occur in the front of the hip and the back of the legs. With a tight hip, you likely feel tightness in one of those areas. If strength imbalances and/or deficits exist, the best thing to do is address those. Think about it, if you constantly pull and stretch a muscle that wants to be tight- it will inherently revert back to the same tightness once you stop stretching until the imbalances are gone.
Static stretching can work temporarily, especially in the morning if you have arthritis to aid in blood flow. However, it is not a long-term fix to increase mobility. I’m not saying static stretching is bad. What I am saying is that there is a better way.
Dynamic Movement is Key to Releasing Tight Hips
There is potential for a tight hip to loosen up for the longer term. How? The answer is movement.
Think about the last time you exercised. Did your hip feel better afterward? If not, you might be doing the wrong exercise, and we need to chat! Exercise helps tremendously with stiffness. This is because exercise stimulates blood flow to the muscles, which they crave during exercise. The blood can “take out the garbage” and filter out inflammatory cells and other waste cells that may accumulate, especially in an arthritic joint.
With movement, you are also allowing oxygen and other important nutrients to get into the muscles- which helps to keep them healthy and also promotes recovery. During static stretches, you don’t get these same benefits.
Taking Care of Imbalances Caused by Tight Hips
The first order of business is to take care of any muscle imbalances. For example, if you experience tightness in the front of your hip, the causes could be the hip flexor muscle overworking because of a weaker quadriceps or thigh muscle or overcompensation for the other leg which may be weaker.
One common exercise that has the potential to hip flexor tightness this straight leg raise isometric exercise. It allows for the quadriceps to contract without being overpowered by the likely overworked hip flexor.
There are lots of reasons why muscles are tight, and I recommend an evaluation from a skilled physical therapist to help you figure out what you need to prioritize.
If the back of your legs feel tight, trying a movement like a deadlift with light weight or potentially no weight could be helpful in getting the muscles to contract and then relax, thus creating a decreased feeling of tightness.
By finding ways to move that work to eliminate muscle imbalances, your tight hip can become a thing of the past.
Other Solutions for Loosening Tight Hips
Although dynamic movement tends to trump most other interventions in terms of longevity, other options for increasing mobility do exist. Massage works very similar to movement. When you massage the tight area, you promote blood flow. This, in turn, helps to take out cell waste and reduces inflammation. Other devices like massage guns and foam rollers can be helpful too. If pain accompanies the tightness, you may find benefit in using pain relieving creams and/or gels or compression sleeves to reduce pain levels. This can allow you to participate in movement more easily while decreasing joint stiffness.
The first step to overcoming muscle tightness is to figure out why you are stiff. Are certain muscles working too hard? Are certain muscles weaker than others? A skilled physical therapist is usually best for this job.
Then, you will need to find the best movements to prioritize these findings whether it’s strengthening, balance, pain reduction, or something else. Success with these first two steps will bring you much closer to finding a solution for your tight hip!
About the Author: Dr. Alyssa Kuhn
Dr. Alyssa Kuhn is a physical therapist and osteoarthritis specialist. She founded Keep the Adventure Alive to show the world that an osteoarthritis diagnosis is not necessarily a death sentence to everything you love doing! Dr. Kuhn helps people all around the world find pain relief, regain confidence, and reignite adventure through virtual services and online programs. She breaks through the doom and gloom and brings a fresh, positive perspective to help your arthritic joints. You can, in fact, create your own arthritis adventure, and she is on a mission to show you how. Learn more about Dr. Kuhn on her YouTube channel or website.
FAQs About Tight Hips
Do you have tight hips? Below are answers to some commonly asked questions we hear at 50PlusToday from our readers.
What causes tight hips?
Tight hips can result from various factors, including prolonged sitting, lack of regular physical activity, muscle imbalances, overuse, and injury. Age-related changes in muscle and joint flexibility can also contribute to hip tightness.
How can tight hips affect my daily life?
Tight hips can lead to discomfort, reduced mobility, and contribute to poor posture. It may also increase the risk of hip and lower back pain, limit your range of motion, and affect your ability to perform activities like walking, running, and sitting comfortably.
Can tight hips cause back pain?
Yes, tight hips can contribute to lower back pain. When hip muscles are tight, they can pull on the pelvis, causing it to tilt forward. This misalignment can strain the lower back muscles and lead to discomfort or pain.
Are there specific exercises to avoid if I have tight hips?
Some exercises may exacerbate hip tightness if not performed correctly or if you have an underlying hip condition. It’s advisable to consult with a healthcare professional or physical therapist to determine which exercises are safe and appropriate for your specific situation.
How can I prevent tight hips in the future?
To prevent tight hips, maintain an active lifestyle, incorporate regular stretching and mobility exercises into your routine, practice good posture, and take frequent breaks from sitting if you have a desk job. Staying hydrated and maintaining a healthy body weight can also help.
Can tight hips be a sign of a more serious medical condition?
In some cases, hip tightness may be a symptom of an underlying medical condition, such as hip arthritis, bursitis, or a structural issue. If your hip tightness is chronic or worsening, it’s important to seek medical evaluation to rule out any serious underlying conditions.
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Note: This article is not intended as medical advice. If you have concerns, please see a trusted medical practitioner.