Hip Stretching Exercises for Back Pain Relief

How Stretching Your Hips Helps Low Back Pain, Too

Man stretching
Xavier Arnau/Getty Images

Did you know that stretching your hip muscles can help your back?  

The pelvis is a key structure when it comes to back health, partly because it is fixed to the lower spine. Not only that, but hip muscles attach onto the pelvis.

Chronically tight hip muscles have the power to pull the pelvis out of alignment, and indirectly affect spinal positioning as they do.

Your risk for an injury may increase, as well.  If you already have one you may find that it’s either made worse or irritated by your chronically tight hip muscles.  

At the very least, the tension and/or spasm in muscles that cross over the hip and attach onto the pelvis can contribute to imbalance (in terms of how strong and flexible each muscle group is relative to the others.) Muscle imbalance can make for pain, limitation and/or posture problems.  It can also increase the healing challenge put to you by an existing injury or condition (for example, scoliosis.)

Develop Your Hip Stretching Strategy

Senior woman bending backwards
Put your hips in extension to test for tight quadriceps. lisafx

Releasing tight hip muscles is an indirect approach to relieving back pain. Because of that, you might consider taking a strategic approach based on where you're the tightest.

One thing to keep in mind as you create your hip muscle stretching strategy (and pick out the exercises you’ll do) is that in general, muscles that work your hips are categorized according to their location: Front, outer, back and inner.  To a great extent, the muscle’s location determines the type of movement it can produce. 

For example, your quadriceps muscles are located at the front of the thigh; their job is to flex the hip, which brings your lower extremity (thigh, lower leg, and foot) forward, in front of you.  On the other hand, your hamstring muscles are located at the back of the thigh.  When they contract, they extend the lower extremity, bringing it behind you.

Quadriceps Hip Stretches for Low Back Pain Relief

Woman doing the bridge exercise.
Stretch your quadriceps muscles with a hip bridge. Dmyr_Z

As I mentioned on the previous page, your quadriceps are located at the front of the thigh.  They cross over hip joint in front, which means they produce hip movement (in this case, hip flexion.)  The quadriceps are unique from most of the body’s muscles because they are what is known as “2-joint muscle.”  This simply means that along with crossing over and affecting motion in your hip joint, they also cross over and affect your knee.  (The quadriceps extend i.e., straighten, the knee.)  Because we’re concerned with the way in which hip muscles affect your lower back, we’ll limit this discussion to the hip portion of this muscle.

The quadriceps muscles work when you do things like walking, running, climbing stairs and more.  They can be very much affected by long hours of sitting, as when you work at a computer all day.  Sitting puts the hip joint in constant flexion, which we’ve already said is what happens when the quadriceps contracts.  When you sit all day the quads, as they are often called for short, stay in a constant state of contraction – not very healthy for the muscle or for your lower back.

To stretch your quadriceps at the hip, the idea is to do the opposite movement to flexion, i.e., extension.  You can perform extension moves at the hip while standing, lying on your side, lying prone (on your stomach) and kneeling.  Even basic stretches done at a pain free level where you can feel a small bit of challenge, and that are held continuously for approximately 30 seconds may translate to better posture and less back pain.

Get started stretching your quads with these ideas:  3 Ways to Get a Good Quad Stretch.

Hamstring Hip Stretches for Low Back Pain Relief

One woman helps another to further her hamstring stretch.
Increase your hamstring stretch by asking a partner to help. fizkes

Like quadriceps, the hamstrings are 2-joint muscles.  Unlike the quadriceps, though, the hamstrings are located at the back of your thigh.  They attach at the siting bones, which are located on the underside of your pelvis.  When they contract, the effect is to pull the back of the pelvis down toward the back of the thigh, or to bring the lower extremity back behind you.  Either way, this move is called “hip extension.”  

You use your hamstrings when you walk, run, and climb stairs.  You might also use them in sports that require explosive jumping such as basketball. 

Related:  All About the Hamstrings

Usually, hamstrings are weaker than the quadriceps, but when they are tight, this may lead to a posture issue called flat low back.

To stretch the hip portion of your hamstrings, perform hip flexion movements.  It doesn’t matter if you’re an experienced athlete or a beginner – there’s a hamstring stretch for every type of person.  For a few ideas about how to stretch your hamstrings (including dos and don’ts and a few of my special alignment tips, check out: 7 Great Hamstring Stretches.

Outer Hip Muscle Stretches for Low Back Pain Relief

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

Muscles on the outside of the hip help to stabilize your body posture.  They play important roles in walking and standing, as well as overall balance of the pelvic position.  For this reason, it's important to keep them in good working order.

Related:  What is the Gluteus Medius Muscle?

While we're on the topic of outer hip muscles, let’s consider spinal rotation for a minute.  You may believe that when you've got your spine in a twist, it's all happening in the back.

In a well-working spine, this is not completely true.  The hip joints play an important role by adapting the pelvic position to support and increase the rotation.  Their construction allows for swiveling action to take place, which may increase your twisting range of motion as well as keep your back safe. 

But if your outer hip muscles are tight, your rotational range may be limited.  This is another reason why stretching your outer hip muscle may be a good idea.

Related: 3 Strategies for Outer Hip Muscle Flexibility

Inner Hip Muscle Stretches for Low Back Pain Relief

Basic inner thigh groin stretch.
Basic inner thigh groin stretch. rognar

Inner hip muscles, aka groin, or adductor, muscles contribute balance to standing and locomotion.  They also work with the outer hip muscles to keep your pelvis aligned horizontally. When chronic adductor tension causes pelvic tilting (which may be viewed as one hip higher than the other,) your sacroiliac and/or low back may be affected.

Believe it or not, many people are tight in their groin muscles without realizing it. Perhaps they never venture to stretch this area.  

Check Out a Few Groin Stretches: 4 Ways to Increase Your Inner Thigh Flexibility

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