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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, you 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 answer
Muscles 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. But 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
There is potential for a tight hip to loosen up for the longer term. How?…Movement.
Think about the last time you exercised. Did your hip feel better afterwards? 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 is able to “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
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 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 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 a tight hip
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 the 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 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