Hip Stretching Exercise for Back Pain Relief – Why It Works

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

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

The pelvis is a key structure when it comes to back health. Here's how:

1

How Stretching Your Hips Helps Low Back Pain, Too

Man stretching
Xavier Arnau/Getty Images

How Pelvis and Spine Relate

The spine is wedged in between the two hip bones that form the back of the pelvis. Not only that but hip muscles, which in some cases can get so very tight, attach onto the pelvis. Their condition helps determine the position of the pelvis, and therefore the chronic position of the spine.

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 in relation to the others. But muscle imbalance in the hips and the spine may 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.

And if you already have a spine injury or condition, you may find it's all too easy to irritate it when your muscles are tight.

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Develop Your Hip Stretching Strategy

Senior woman bending backwards
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 a group of four that are located at the front of the thigh; one of the group members, the rectus femoris flexes 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.

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Quadriceps Hip Stretches for Low Back Pain Relief

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

As mentioned on the previous page, your quadriceps are located at the front of the thigh. One of the quadriceps muscles, the rectus femoris, crosses over the hip joint in front, which means it produces hip movement, which, in this case, is hip flexion. 

The rectus femoris is unique from most of the body’s muscles because it is what is known as “2-joint muscle.”  This simply means that along with crossing over and affecting motion in your hip joint, it also crosses over and affects your knee. (The rectus femoris extends i.e., straightens, the knee.) 

The exercises in this article are limited to the hip portion of this muscle.

Quadriceps Stretching Action

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.

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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 reside at the back of your thigh. They attach at the siting bones, which are located on the underside of your pelvis. When the hamstring muscles contract, the effect is a pulling of the back of the pelvis down toward the back of the thigh, or a bringing of 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. 

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

Hamstrings Stretching Action

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, check out: 7 Great Hamstring Stretches.

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Outer Hip Muscle Stretches for Low Back Pain Relief

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.

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-functioning 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.

Outer Thigh Muscle Stretching Action

To stretch your outer thigh muscles, the idea is to bring the leg in towards the midline of your body. Generally, this means you'll cross your lower extremity in front of your body. A number of strategies, including using various positions can help you achieve just the right stretch. 

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Inner Hip Muscle Stretches for Low Back Pain Relief

Basic inner thigh groin stretch.
rognar

Inner hip muscles, aka groin, or adductor, muscles help you balance while standing and locomoting. 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.  

Inner Thigh Muscle Stretching Action

To stretch your inner thigh muscles, bring one leg out to the side while keeping your trunk still and in good alignment. 

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