Raise Your Hand If You Have Tight Hip Flexors?!
When the body comes under stress it goes into a more flexed stated. Very rarely, actually never, when I am stressed do I find myself lifting my head higher and walking and sitting taller. Quite on the contrary, I tend to collapse downward and forward. Similarly, a lot of activities and day jobs have us in the saggital plane of movement, which is the plane of flexion and extension (Think, folding forward to touch your toes and then reaching toward the sky and bending backwards). Walking, running, cycling, desk-jockeying, couch-potato-ing, are all in this saggital plane–but mostly in the flexed forward state. The result, tight hip flexors, tight abdominals (not in the way we want them tight!), tight chest, tight jaw, as well as a host of other issues when living in such a flexed position.
Can you relate?
Rolfing 10-Series–Session 5: Balancing The Front of the Pelvis
Session 5 of the Rolfing 10-Series is sometimes remembered by clients as the psoas (pronouced “so-as”) session. There is much more to it than just the psoas (the deepest hip flexor muscle in the body), but significant it is. This session is focused on bringing better balance to the front of the pelvis, establishing better support to the anterior spine, helping the legs “drop” out of the pelvis, and bringing better extension to the lumbar spine. And who doesn’t want to look and feel taller?!
Pso-as I was saying….
Before even getting to the psoas, there are other structures that influence our ability to lengthen through the lumbar spine and up out of the pelvis. Anatomically we are dealing with the legs of the thigh as well as the abdominal compartment.
Let’s start with the legs. In looking at the image of the thigh, it really is a beautiful construction of tissues, isn’t it? How they all attach, intersect, overlap, and are designed to work independently and collectively to bring support to the hip and knees, as well as give us tremendous resource for movement. The counter or opposing muscle groups to the anterior thigh that flex the hip are the gluteal muscles that extend the hip and the hamstrings that flex the knee, which will be hit on in the discussion of Session 6 of the Rolfing 10-Series.
Moving up in the torso, we have the abdominal tissues. We all look like the picture below, truly. Some of us just have a little more insulation keeping the abdominal six-pack nice and cool! Looking at this, you might be surprised to see more tissue structures than just the ever popular Rectus Abdominis. Obliques and the Transversus Abdominis are less “sexy” than the Rectus Abdominis, but serve very significant roles in helping us twist, stabilize the pelvis, attach our ribs and upper body to our lower body, and holding our abdominal contents inside the body (a nice feature, I think). Despite how un-toned we might look in our abdomen, some of these structures can be shortened and in deep need of opening up and lengthening. Not to mention, it is an area of the body where a lot of people hold stress.
Going back to the leg, I want to highlight the psoas especially since it has been built up to this point and I am sure you are super intrigued to learn more about it!
Many people think the movement of their legs start at their hips, but truthfully movement starts up as high as the upper attachment of the Psoas, which is the last thoracic vertebrae (T12). All you need to do is go to You Tube and pull up videos of Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly, Ginger Rogers, even Michael Jackson dancing to see this in action. If you watch any of them dancing, you will see the movement of their lower body starting up in the torso, not down at the hips.
In addition to attaching to the 12th thoracic vertebrae, the Psoas attaches to the lumbar spine. A tight Psoas is known to pull the lumbar spine forward, which as you can imagine can result in low back instability and pain, hip discomfort, impaired gait and together that will ultimately impact the well-being of the entire body. Whether a weekend warrior in cycling, hiking, and running, or more sedentary sitting most of the day, both groups of people can be impacted with a tight Psoas and hip flexors.
Now that you know your legs start up higher than your hips you might start noticing your gait and overall movement change (for the better of course!). For whatever reason, that makes me think of this long-legged beauty….Ha!
How Can I open Up My Hips?
While we may not be able to completely eliminate the sitting in our jobs, and it is crazy to think about giving up the healthy hobbies we love that require a lot of repetitive movement in the same plane of movement, there are things we can do to help our bodies remain open and elongated through the pelvis.
From a movement perspective, simply think about countering the repetitive patterns in your day to day. If you can, vary up your work station so you have the option between sitting and standing. Or, if that isn’t an option, set a reminder, even if using an alarm, to remind you to get up and move around every hour.
If you engage in activities and hobbies that require a lot of hinging forward at the hips, can you find some sideways (think side lunging, side bending) and circumduction (think full arm or hip circles, hula-hoop movements with hips) movements to at least warm up with, or complete after your activity. This will serve to help you perform even better and protect your body for a long life of being active.
What follows are some ideas for how to approach this with stretching.
Standing Hip Flexor Stretch
This can be done with a chair, a wall, or if you feel you have good balance, without the support of a wall or chair.
- Step forward a couple of feet with one leg (note: you never want your front knee traveling in front of the ankle, putting strain on your knee).
- Check to make sure your front knee tracks straight forward and not off to the right tor left.
- Initially you may not be able to have a wide stance between your feet, but it will come more easily the more you practice the stretch.
- Check in with your hips and make sure they are squared off and facing forward, and not veering off to the side.
- With the back knee slightly bent, and heel off the ground, pretend like you are tucking your tailbone underneath you.
- You might already start to feel the stretch in the front of the back leg. If not, check to make sure your upper body is not leaning forward but stacked on top of your hips. and then start to sink down in your hips.
- If at any point you feel pain in your knees or anywhere else, back out a little or discontinue the stretch.
- More advanced–only if you have solid balance, you can bring your arms up in front of you and reach for the sky, intensifying the stretch up through your torso.
- Hold for a nice slow count of 20-30, and then repeat on the other side.
- There are a plethora of variations to this stretch–kneeling, using a bench, using straps, and more. Be sure you check out other variations online.
Sphinx Pose (Spinal Extension and Abdominal Stretch)
This is a great stretch for the front of the body to undo the tension and stresses of the day where you have spent sitting at a desk, working on a computer, or driving.
- Lay on the floor on your tummy.
- With elbows positioned underneath your shoulders, come up on your forearms.
- Spread the fingers wide on each hand and engage your palms on the floor.
- Toes should be flat on the ground, not curled under.
- Lift your knee caps off the ground, engage your thighs, and press the tops of your feet into the ground.
- Engaging your palms on the floor, softly start pulling your chest and heart forward and upwards.
- Lift the crown of your head, and be mindful on keeping your shoulders back and down. We don’t need to be wearing our shoulders as earrings!
- Hold for a nice slow juicy 30 seconds; as you find tight areas intentionally send your breath to those spots encouraging them to let go.
- And it bears repeating, if at any point you feel pain, back out of the stretch or discontinue.
- More advanced–transition into cobra pose by extending through your elbows.