Can your hip flexors be both tight and weak?
Can your hip flexors be tight and weak at the same time? Find out in this post!
Disclaimer: This post is for general information purposes only. It’s important to consult with a healthcare professional such as a physical therapist who can assess your specific condition and provide appropriate guidance tailored to your needs.
Your Main Hip Flexor: The Psoas
Before we dive into the discussion of whether your hip flexor can be both tight and weak, it’s important to understand what the hip flexor actually is.
The primary hip flexor muscle in your body is known as the iliopsoas, commonly referred to as the ‘psoas’. The psoas is an important muscle of the hip joint responsible for flexing the hip, which means it lifts your leg up and inward.
While the psoas is a hip muscle, it has attachments that extend into the lumbar spine (your lower back). Therefore, it can be considered as part of the “front” of your lower back, not just solely a hip muscle.
To locate the center of the psoas major, you would need to palpate through the lower portion of your abdomen. (Location seen in photo below.)
On the other hand, to palpate the iliacus, which is another part of the iliopsoas responsible for hip flexion, you would need to palpate the inner portion of your iliac crest. The point of sharing this anatomy information is that many of the hip flexor muscles are positioned higher in the body than what is typically associated with the hip region.
In addition to the psoas and iliacus, there’s another muscle involved in hip flexion called the rectus femoris. This muscle runs down the front of the thigh and is part of the quadriceps muscle group.
Understanding the different muscles involved in hip flexion is important because it helps to clarify that the hip flexors are not limited to a single muscle, but rather a group of muscles working together to perform the action of hip flexion.
The psoas, iliacus, and rectus femoris all contribute to hip flexion and can potentially be affected by tightness or weakness.
The complexity of muscles....
It’s not always a straightforward case of muscles being either tight or weak. This complexity applies to the hip flexors, specifically the psoas muscle. While the psoas is often associated with tightness, it’s important to consider whether it’s solely tight or if other factors are at play.
If you find yourself constantly stretching your psoas without improvement in symptoms or if you have chronically tight hip flexors, it may be necessary to look deeper into understanding what’s happening with this muscle. Or you may need to look at other factors in your body but for today’s post, we’ll stick with the topic of tight vs. weak hip flexors.
A muscle can become tight, weak, or both simultaneously. It may seem counterintuitive, but let’s use the bicep as an example to clarify this concept. The bicep muscle is located on the front part of the upper arm. When you bend your elbow, the bicep activates and shortens (such as during a bicep curl). Conversely, when you straighten your elbow, the bicep muscle is lengthened.
Now, imagine that your bicep is extremely tight, to the point where your elbow is stuck in a bent position. In this scenario, would your bicep be as strong as it would be if you were able to move your elbow through its full range? The answer is no—it would be weaker, despite being tight at the same time.
This example highlights that when a muscle is excessively tight, it can limit it’s ability to generate force effectively. It’s essential to have optimal muscle length and flexibility to achieve maximum strength and function. In the case of the hip flexors, chronic tightness can impair their ability to contract optimally, resulting in weakness or decreased strength.
This means that yes, the hip flexors can be both tight and weak at the same time.
If this is the case, addressing both tightness and weakness in the hip flexors is crucial for optimal muscle function.
What do I do if my hip flexors are both tight and weak?
When a muscle is both tight and weak, I find that in most cases it’s beneficial to first address the tightness before addressing the weakness.
Starting with stretching and mobility exercises helps restore length and flexibility to the muscle, allowing it to move through it’s full range of motion. This sets the foundation for more effective strengthening exercises.
When specifically dealing with the hip flexors, it’s common for individuals to solely focus on stretching without ever progressing to the strengthening phase. This may limit their overall recovery and hinder their ability to fully address the underlying issues.
By solely stretching the hip flexors without ever incorporating strengthening exercises, the muscle may temporarily release tension, but you may not be addressing the entire problem. Moreover, without sufficient strength, the hip flexors may struggle to maintain optimal function and stability, leading to potential compensation patterns.
Strengthening exercises help improve the muscle’s capacity to generate force, enhance stability, and promote balanced muscle function. This combination of stretching and strengthening addresses both tightness and weakness in the muscle.
Remember, addressing both tightness and weakness is essential for optimal recovery.
As a simple overview: If the hip flexors are both tight and weak, first work on stretching and mobility to decrease tightness, then progress to strengthening.
Even when you progress to strengthening the hip flexors, you can still work on stretching them as well! It’s not that you need to forget about stretching, it’s more about not forgetting about strengthening.
I'm scared to strengthen my hip flexors..
I get this, and I’ve been there myself. I dealt with a hip impingement issue for many years and was terrified that hip flexor strengthening was going to flare up my symptoms.
While I don’t know your specific case, what I can tell you is that if you do hip flexor strengthening exercises and there’s no pain while you’re doing it and no increased pain afterwards, you’re probably fine!
Fear often holds us back from seeing what our body can really do. Of course, progress yourself slowly and gradually. Don’t go from doing no hip flexor strengthening at all to putting a 10 pound weight on your ankle and doing leg lifts. Start slow and see how you feel.
Remember that strengthening the hip flexors is going to be different from strengthening it’s opposing muscle, the glutes. The hip flexors are a much smaller muscle group so you’re not going to need a lot of resistance or weight to build strength here.
Final Thoughts on Hip Flexor Tightness & Weakness
To wrap up, it’s important to recognize that hip flexors can indeed be both tight and weak.
Why can’t the human body just be straightforward?? LOL
If you have both tightness and weakness in your hip flexors, it’s crucial to address both aspects! First with stretching and mobility exercises to alleviate tightness, followed by strengthening exercises to improve muscle strength.
By understanding and addressing both tightness and weakness in the hip flexors, you can work towards restoring balance and promoting overall hip health. It is advisable to seek guidance from healthcare professionals such as physical therapists who can provide appropriate exercises and techniques tailored to your individual needs.
Keep learning about your body!