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!
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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.
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Thank you for taking the time to read,
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You can teach an old dog new tricks!!! I have never considered myself a runner and I knew I needed to be smart about it because I am no spring chicken. Spark preached getting strong and healthy to be injury free and they practice what they preach. I am soooo glad I made the investment in me! I finished my half marathon last weekend and couldn’t be any happier! The program fed me all the steps I needed to essentially learn how to run long distance, build strength, nutrition help, a forum of other runners and probably most important was the 1:1 coaching. I had no idea how to tackle training for a 1/2 marathon and this program broke all of it down, had it individualized for me and we tweaked as we went to make sure I was staying healthy and strong. I had so many questions the week prior to my race and Coach Cat was always there for me and answering all the questions and issues I had-and believe me there were a lot! The biggest benefit I think I got was the strength. I am strong and fit. But most important was what I gained emotionally. I built confidence and strength I didn’t know I had, even at my age. Honestly could not have done this without Spark Healthy Runners!
My Healthy Runner journey started after I had battled bilateral achilles pain for a few months and was frustrated how it affected my running. As soon as I talked to Duane I knew I had made the right decision. His positivity, enthusiasm and genuine care are infectious. The training plan that was tailored to me included specific exercises to rehab my injury and I was so excited that I didn’t have to stop running. It took patience to only run slow for a few weeks but I trusted the process and it got me me to where I am now: running pain free. We made adjustments to the plan throughout whenever needed having someone in your corner that is always there with guidance and support throughout the process was invaluable.
I just ran my second half marathon, both with Duane’s coaching, and PR’d by over 9 minutes! I got all choked up in the last mile when I realized that I felt strong and could still kick it up a notch.
I’m so thankful for the Healthy Runner program, community and the entire coaching team for all the support!
Wanting to run more consistently, and to increase my long run distance and total weekly mileage, I was concerned about hip pain due to hip alignment issues. This is an issue I had when I trained for my first half marathon several years ago. Having listened to the Healthy Runner podcast for the past couple years, I knew Duane Scotti could help. I signed up for the four-month strength and running training program and am extremely happy with the results.
The program Duane and Coach Whitney developed for me was exactly what I needed. It was tailored to my needs and to my target race. Coach Whitney was very helpful, and with the biweekly coaching calls, we were able to fine tune the program based off my performance and feedback.
At the end of the program, I completed a 10K trail race feeling strong and pain free.
I highly recommend Duane Scotti and the Healthy Runner training programs.