Are you a runner, dancer, or gymnast who suffers from chronic tight hips? Or are you a person who has heard that you should be foam rolling but are not sure where to start? In this blog post, I will share the reasons why I prescribe foam rolling for the hip flexors that has helped many active individuals throughout the years. These are the strategies that I have trialed over the years both personally and with my clients to stay happy and healthy. We will address some common questions like:
What does foam rolling do?
What causes tight hip flexors?
How can foam rolling help my pain?
For context on why foam rolling may be an important piece to overall health and wellness for your body, I would recommend you check out this previous article in which we addressed different ways to treat your soft tissues to prevent injuries.
For my auditory and/ or visual learners, click the video below to view the livestream I did on this topic during my weekly Monday Night SPARK Live!
What Does Foam Rolling Do?
The benefits of foam rolling include warming up your muscles and feeling looser prior to or after your training sessions. We know that foam rolling has been shown to cause short term improvements in flexibility and aide recovery following a workout. Most people report feeling less tight which results in an increased ability to get a “good workout”. The research on the benefits of foam rolling is scarce with only a few studies with low number of subjects reporting these benefits. To read an easy article summarizing some of the research on this topic CLICK HERE
We are not clear on the mechanisms by which foam rolling makes most of us feel “looser” whether it is mechanical or neurophysiological effect. Personally, I believe this is not likely due to true structural soft tissue changes in the fascia or the muscles. The most likely mechanism foam rolling feels good and we feel better after we do it is that we are stimulating small nerve receptors in our tissues when we roll over them which gives us a perceived release effect. Therefore, I am a believer in the neurological explanation in that we are stimulating our nervous system which helps dampen some of the increased tone and tightness we feel in our muscles. As a result of this, I would recommend you spend no more than 30-60 sec per muscle foam rolling and caution that you do not want to foam foll excessively 20-30 minutes before you are asking your muscles to generate a lot of power and force (before a race, gymnastics competition, or heavy leg day in the gym).
Think about utilizing foam rolling more as an active warmup for your body. We are talking about for both the tissues (muscles, fascia, skin) by increasing your tissue temperature as well as your nervous system so it is “turned on” prior to activity. Foam rolling should be performed for 30-60 sec for the specific muscles that are “tighter” on you and then followed up with muscle activation exercises for opposing muscles. We will use the glutes (hip extensors) as an example to activate after you do your hip flexor foam rolling.
What Causes Tight Hip Flexors?
The hip flexors are made up of 2 muscles: the iliacus and the psoas.
These muscles either start at the lumbar spine or in the pelvic bone and attach to your femur bone (thigh) and they work to lift your knee (think of marching motion).
Tight hip flexors can be assessed by medical providers utilizing the Thomas Test and is common in those who perform repetitive hip flexion movements. Running requires you to contract your hip flexors during the swing phase with every step you take and can become tight if runners do not focus on static stretching to restore their muscles back to their resting length following a long distance run. Dancers and gymnasts are other common populations that I tend to see tightness in the hip flexors mainly due to repetitive kicks, leaps, and extension based movements to the spine which can contribute to decreasing the amount of extension at the hip and creating shorter hip flexor length overtime.
The other reason I tend to see tightness in the hip flexors is due to prolonged sitting. When you sit this places the muscles in a shortened state and if you have a desk job or a long commute each day in the car then those muscles will get shorter overtime if you are dedicating proper soft tissue care in those muscles. I do think this is also a contributing factor for my dancers and gymnasts as they sit all day in school.
How Can Foam Rolling Help My Pain?
We do tend to see a common pattern of tightness in the hip flexors in those that have extension based back pain especially in my gymnast population. If the hip flexors are short and tight then that puts excessive extension moment on the lumbar spine and can be a contributing factor to developing stress fractures in the spine and even slippage of the bone (spondylolysis and spondylolisthesis).
The other reason hip flexor foam rolling may help you is if you have pain in front of your hips. The most likely contributor to your pain is an underlying impingement in the hip, Femoroacetabular Impingement Syndrome (FAI) or hip instability in which your hip joint moves too much thereby causing excessive stress to the muscles surrounding the joint to assist in stabilization. Both of these conditions can cause tightness and trigger points in the hip flexor muscles due to pain and compensatory movement patterns.
Want to know how to properly foam roll your hip flexors?
Watch the video below and perform for 30 seconds before and after your workout or training!
In this article I provided an overview of the 3 most common reasons why you should be foam rolling the hip flexor muscles. We covered the mechanisms behind foam rolling and what it actually does when it “hurts so good” as well as what causes tightness in hip flexor muscles. We also covered why foam rolling the hip flexors may help you if you have back pain or hip pain. Remember, foam rolling is only one component of an overall injury prevention (prehab) or rehab plan when recovering from injury. Keep active and keep moving friends!
Are you an active adult or athlete that is trying to stay healthy but can’t train because pain is stopping you from meeting your goals?
Are you worried that an injury will limit you from doing what you love like working out and training?
Have you wondered what it will cost you in the long run if you continue to train through pain?
Have you seen other medical providers in the past that just tell you to stop your activity?
We have a unique treatment approach that focuses on solving these problems with our clients. We combine manual hands-on techniques with guided supervised exercises to help you get stronger, pain-free and perform at your peak level to get you back on the road doing what you love. Our goal is to help keep you active and on the road, while recovering from injury by guiding you in ways to modify your training, rather than eliminating running!
The SPARK Physical Therapy Commitment
No long waits or multiple trips to providers’ offices every week. We see you either onsite at a partnering gym or in the comfort of your home when it is convenient with your schedule.
One on one for a full hour with your doctor of physical therapy, every visit. We provide you with a customized plan specifically designed for you, based off your unique injury and goals.
Full transparency in what you pay. You will never get a bill from us a couple of months after your visit.
Access and availability to you! Have a question about your pain or exercise program? Get an answer from your therapist directly.
If you’re in the Wallingford, CT area and are a runner that has been dealing with injuries we can help. We’d love to chat for a few minutes and see if you are a good fit for what we do. Fill in the contact request and we’ll set up a free 10-minute phone consultation with a doctor of physical therapy
Thank you for taking the time to read,
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