Most of us who train frequently are familiar with the psoas muscle, short for iliopsoas, and commonly referred to as the hip flexor.
“My hip flexors are tight.” “My hip flexors hurt.” “My hip flexors are pinching.” You name it, and I’ve heard it. We’re familiar, for the most part, with what hip flexors are. However, a lot of us are lost on what to do to help them.
Are Hip Flexors Always Tight?
Stretching your psoas can help some people in most cases, and it feels good, but you may feel doomed to a daily routine of psoas stretching without making any progress. You may feel like you’re just maintaining, but that your hip flexors will never really change. They are just always tight.
I’m going to get down to the nitty-gritty and explain when and why stretching your psoas is not helping.
Note: Stretching your psoas, in most cases, is a good thing.
This content is for those who aren’t getting the results they need from simply stretching their hip flexors.
When and Why Stretching Your Psoas Is Not Enough:
1. You Have Psoas Tendonitis or Tendinopathy
If you have inflammation, microtrauma, and pain in the tendon (the rope-like portion of the muscle made of more fibrous connective tissue) regularly stretching your psoas is not going to fix it. It has a better chance of delaying your recovery and continuing to irritate it.
2.. You Have a Psoas Strain
When you strain your psoas, you have a small tear in the muscle. Tear is a scary word, but if it’s strained, it’s a small tear. A complete tear would be considered a rupture, and these are much rarer.
If you’ve strained your psoas and you keep stretching it with hopes this will fix your problem; you’ve got it wrong. Pulling a strained muscle is going to subject the tissue to more tension than is desirable during the recovery process.
3. You Sit Almost All Day at Work
If you sit nearly all of your day at work, stretching your psoas for 5-10 minutes isn’t enough. You can’t unwind all the shortening in your hip flexors within a few minutes. I’m not saying it’s pointless, because It can give you some relief, but it’s just not going to get the job done.
4. Your Psoas Muscle Is Not the Problem
If you haven’t been evaluated and diagnosed, you may be guessing it’s the hip flexor, and it could be another issue. Other issues can cause pain in the same area as your hip flexor, like:
Even experienced clinicians misdiagnosis hip pain, so don’t feel bad if you feel like you’ve got it wrong. The point is that if you’re not improving you should probably get a professional opinion on your hip.
5. You Aren’t Creating Strength in Opposing Muscles
One of the biggest reasons why stretching your hip flexors isn’t enough is because you’re neglecting your opposing muscles. The opposing muscles of the psoas are the gluteal and hamstring muscles. These muscles pull your hip in the opposite direction. If you’re not doing activation and strengthening exercises to create an oppositional force, your hip flexor muscles will always dominate.
The oppositional muscles are notoriously weak, but if you address them, they will fight the good fight for you.
Take a look at all the muscles in this area, in addition to the iliopsoas. The front of the hip is also sensitive because of the femoral artery, vein, nerve, and inguinal ligament. There are a lot of structures that can be involved in hip tightness and discomfort, especially if stretching your psoas isn’t relieving.
6. You Don’t Exercise and Are Inactive
I promise I’m not trying to slam you. If this is you, but it’s the truth. You have to exercise to maintain your physical frame. Deconditioning is a real thing, and over the long run, a psoas issue is small in comparison to the other problems that can arise from deconditioning.
7. You’re Stretching the Psoas Incorrectly
Believe it or not, it’s common to think you’re stretching the psoas when you’re stretching the gluteal muscles. An equal amount of people are close to the correct stretch but are leaning back and involving their back instead of shifting their hips forward. Make sure you know how to target the psoas muscle with your stretching.
Alison Bristow shows trainees the correct movement of the psoas
8. You Aren’t Spending Time on Mobility for the Other Supporting Muscles
Your body works in synergy and isolating your psoas for stretching while neglecting other supporting muscles will not yield results. Creating a comprehensive mobility plan to address hip, back, and leg muscles are necessary. The human body is balanced and complex, and we need synergy to function correctly.
9. You’re Not Avoiding Aggravating Factors
If you keep aggravating your injury, whether it’s the psoas or something else, your chances of making a full recovery are slim to none. As much as we want to work through things and be tough, we have to recognize when it’s hurting more than helping. There’s no amount of psoas stretching that will help if you are repetitively injuring the area.
What Can You Do Besides Stretching for Psoas Pain Relief?
If any of these reasons sound familiar, don’t be alarmed. They’re all things you can change. Also, this isn’t a mea culpa on stretching the psoas, I promise. Stretching is part of the rehab strategy for psoas discomfort, but the rehab process is usually more complicated than merely stretching.
If you’re experiencing nagging hip discomfort or injury that’s not resolving with stretching, consider reaching out to rehab specialists like a chiropractor or physical therapist who can provide treatments for psoas pain relief and a rehab strategy. These issues can almost always be resolved conservatively and without invasive or surgical procedures.