Many people complain of tight hips that could be caused by simply sitting or walking. Shortening or weakening of hip muscles can result in improper alignment and lower back pain. Yoga is a useful tool to help alleviate such symptoms. Various poses address ailments associated with different hip muscle groups: the flexors, extensors, external rotators and internal rotators.
Your hip flexors are on your upper thighs, and they allow you to lift your knees and bend at your waist. Tight hip flexors are common because people tend to sit for many hours throughout the day, constantly flexing the hips. Shortened hip flexors cause a forward tilt of the pelvis that can lead to lower back pain. Stretching the hip flexors – specifically the iliopsoas, sartorius and rectus femoris – can help create pelvic alignment and prevent or reduce lower back pain.
Incorporating the high lunge into your yoga practice will help to alleviate tight hip flexors. Stand on your mat with your right foot approximately 3 feet in front of the left, both feet shoulder-width apart, and left heel lifted off the ground. Your front knee is bent at a 90-degree angle directly over your front ankle and your back leg is straight, careful not to hyperextend the knee. Tilt your hips forward and tuck your tailbone, creating a stretch in your hip flexor muscles. Inhale deeply as you lift your arms. Hold the pose for 20 to 30 seconds and repeat on the other side.
The hip extensors, primarily the gluteus maximus and hamstring muscles, are the primary muscles that extend the hips. They are very large muscles that create a lot of force and are used in common, everyday movements such as walking. Runners and other athletes often complain of tight hip extensors because of repetitive hip extension. Stretching both the glutes and hamstrings in a triangle position will help remedy this.
To begin triangle pose, stand in split-stance on your mat with your right foot approximately 2 to 3 feet in front of the left at a 90-degree angle. Both feet are shoulder-width apart, and your left foot is at a 45-degree angle. Stretch your arms out at shoulder height, palms facing down. Reach to the right and then bend at your hips, contacting the floor or ankle with the right hand. Tilt your neck to gaze at your upper hand. Hold for 20 to 30 seconds and repeat on the other side.
External Hip Rotators
The other two sets of muscles that constitute your hip, the external and internal rotators, often interplay and create imbalances that can throw off your hip flexion and extension and result back pain. According to “Yoga Journal” online, if your external rotators are tight, they can put pressure on your sciatic nerve, which can create numbness and pain that radiates down your leg. Stretching the external rotators and strengthening the internal rotators will help create proper alignment and better stability.
There are six external rotators: the quadratus femoris, the gemellus superior and inferior, the obturator externus and internus, and the piriformis. To give them a proper stretch, try head-to-knee pose. Sit with your back straight, and extend your right leg on the floor in front of you, foot flexed. Place the bottom of your left foot on your right thigh. Reach forward and fold over your right leg. If your back begins to round, stop at that point and support yourself with your hands on either side of your front leg. Hold for 20 to 30 seconds and repeat on the other side.
Internal Hip Rotators
To strengthen your internal hip rotators -- the gluteus minimus, gluteus medius, and tensor fasciae latea muscles -- lie on your back with legs extended and heels together. Most people will externally rotate their legs in a relaxed position. Actively bring them back together so the inner edges of the feet are touching. Hold until muscles fatigue, relax and repeat two more times.
Stephanie Soscia holds a Ph.D. in anatomy and neurobiology from the Boston University School of Medicine. She has studied the molecular mechanisms underlying Alzheimer’s disease for more than a decade, publishing her work in several peer-reviewed journals. Soscia is also a Yoga Alliance-certified yoga teacher and CrossFit level 1 trainer.