Back Pain Relief through Outer Hip Muscle Stretching

Don't Know why your Lower Back Hurts?  It could be your Outer Hip Muscles

Tight outer hip muscles may be keeping you in back pain.
Tight outer hip muscles may be keeping you in back pain. sciencepics

Muscles located at the side of the hip - the gluteus medius, piriformis and rotator muscles - contribute greatly to the well being of your lower back as well as your posture.  When these muscles get tight, which they often do, you may find that along with hip pain, your lower back hurts but you can't figure out why.

Related:  What is the Gluteus Medius Muscle?

In a nutshell, tight outer hip muscles pull on the pelvis, altering its position; this, in turn, causes a change in the alignment of your spine.  

Believe me, you don't want to get stuck there!  So the best way to deal with low back pain complicated or caused by tight outer hip muscles is to stretch the area.  The good news is that a number of ways exist to release and stretch these key posture muscles. Slide on for a few ideas to get you started.

Stretch your Outer Thigh Muscles

Hip abductor and rotator stretch.
Hip abductor and rotator stretch.

The picture above shows perhaps the most basic of all stretches for hip abductors.  As with any hip abductor stretch, the idea is to get the outer hip muscles to release. If you are a beginner, this particular version is good because you can perform it while in the supine position.

Related:  Supine Position

Lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor.  Bend one knee at the hip to bring it up toward your chest; repeat this move with the other leg.  Once both legs are up, place the ankle of one leg onto the thigh - just above the knee - of the other. 

Try to keep the knee of the leg being stretched from inching its way toward the center of your body.  Why?  Because that's "cheating."  Keeping the knee pointed outward (without unduly forcing it) is what focuses the stretch in the hip. 

Stay in the stretch for about 30 seconds and then switch legs.  Repeat a few times.

Adapt a Seated Spinal Twist into a Release for your Hip Abductors

Stretch your hip abductors while sitting.
Stretch your hip abductors while sitting.

You can adapt a spinal twisting move so that it also provides a gentle release experience for the outer hip.  (Note: If you have back problems ask your doctor or physical therapist if it's okay to rotate your spine before trying this.)

Begin by sitting with both legs extended straight in front of you.  

It's okay - in fact it's recommended - to lean back and support your body weight by putting your hands on the floor.  Another way to get the same effect is to do this against a wall.  (Either way, remember we are adapting a seated spinal twist, so the rules change just a bit.)

Now that you're situated, bring one leg over the other and place that foot on the floor.  The top leg/foot should cross over the extended bottom leg near the knee.

Extend the arm that is on the same side as your outstretched leg, and place it so the elbow presses against the outside of the bent knee.  (The forearm will be parallel to the lower leg.)  Use the outstretched arm to press the knee away from the center of your body, thereby accentuating the spinal rotation and the concurrent stretch at the hip. 

Accentuate the Hip Release  - a Tip

As you do this, think about dropping your hip back down to the floor - with the ultimate goal of having both sitting bones contacting the floor equally. The combination of dropping your hip and pushing the knee away from the body may increase hip release action.  Note:  You'll also likely feel a stretch in your low back.  This is due to the rotation that is very much a part of the exercise.

Stay in the stretch for at least 30 seconds, unless the position brings on pain.  Be sure to repeat the exercise on the other side, as well.

Relax Tension from Hip Abductors by Strengthening the Adductors

Stretch hip abductors by strengthening hip adductors.
Stretch hip abductors by strengthening hip adductors.

And now for some strategy.  One way to release chronic tension from muscles that live on the outside of the hip is to work and strengthen those that live on the inside.  This is a more subtle technique than out and out stretching, but strong inner thigh muscles (called adductors) may contribute to overall abductor flexibility.  

One great maneuver for this is to lie on your back with your feet flat on the floor (and knees bent.)  Place a small soft ball in between your knees.  Squeeze and release.  Repeat about 10-15 times.  Do up to 3 sets once or twice per day.

Related:  Is it Safe to Exercise when your Back is Acting Up?