6 Effective Hip Stretches for Tight Hips & Hip Pain

Written by Kristina DeMatas, D.O. | Reviewed by Ana Aleksic, MSc (Pharmacy) | Last updated:

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One of the unfortunate realities of our fast-paced and technology-driven world is that many people spend the majority of their days sitting – be it at a desk at work, on the couch at home, or in the car.

If this sounds all too familiar to you, then you’re probably also familiar with the hip pain that can be associated with extended amounts of sitting. 

Why is this the case? When your body is in a seated position, your hips are held in a flexed position. Remaining in this flexed position for prolonged amounts of time can lead to hip pain and discomfort. Fortunately, there are many hip stretches for tight hips that can help alleviate the pain and allow you to lead a more comfortable life. 

What causes tight hips in the first place?

One of the primary causes of tight hips is a sedentary lifestyle. When your hip muscles relax and deactivate, they can become increasingly weaker over time. But sitting isn’t the only cause of tight hips.

  • Standing up after a long period of sitting can add strain and tightness to the hips
  • Different habits as far as posture are concerned can affect hip tightness – such as leaning on one hip while standing
  • Strongly favoring one side of the body while sleeping can lead to tight hips
  • Improperly performing lower body exercises like deadlifts or squats

Hip stretches are important no matter your activity level

Whether you spend a lot of time sitting or not, hip exercises and stretches are important in maintaining the health and flexibility of your hips. 

The hip flexors – the muscles near the top of your thighs – are key components in many lower body movements. Walking, bending, turning, and kicking are all reliant upon healthy hip flexors. 

If your hip flexor muscles are too tight, a sudden movement may cause pain or even tearing. Regular stretching of your hip flexors can help alleviate tension. There are many simple exercises you can do to stretch your hips. 

If you have mild to moderate hip pain, these hip stretching exercises and physical therapy can be a great help. If the pain or tightness is more severe, you should contact a physical therapist to help you strengthen your muscles [1].

Warm-up stretches for tight hips

You should never jump into a stretching or exercise routine without first doing a warm-up. A warm-up routine allows your body to slowly acclimate to the workout ahead – by increasing blood flow to the muscles and increasing your heart rate.

1) Lateral pendulum stretch

This is a great warm-up stretch that will boost the range of motion in the muscles on the outside of your hips and give your hips more stability.

  • Swing your left leg from left to right in front of your body
  • Be sure to keep the rest of your body stationary while swinging your legs
  • Swing your left leg from left to right ten times
  • Repeat with your right leg

2) Hip flexor strengthening forward pendulum

Now that you’ve stretched the outside of your hips, shift your focus to the hip flexors and hamstrings with this similar stretch.

  • Position yourself near a wall for support during this stretch
  • Swing your left leg forward and back
  • Your posture should be straight during this stretch – do not bend your knees
  • Swing your leg forward and back ten times
  • Repeat with the right leg
  • Be sure to take it slow and easy in order to loosen your muscles

Moving past the warm-up

Once you have activated your hip muscles comfortably, you can move on to some more advanced exercises for tight hips. Remember that these are all stretches and should be done with some intention and care – do not go through the moves too quickly. 

3) Standing hip and quad stretch

This is a relatively easy hip stretch that is good for virtually any athletic level. Be sure to take this exercise slowly so you don’t inadvertently add additional strain to your lower back.

Begin by standing with your feet hip-width apart and your toes pointing forward. Bend your right knee. As you are doing this, bring your right heel up towards your right buttock. Grab your right foot behind you with your right hand. Then, using gentle pressure, pull so that your right knee points towards the floor. Hold the stretch for a few seconds. Repeat with the left leg.

Tip: If you need some counter balance, you can hold on to a chair or other firm surface with your opposite hand.

4) Squat-to-stand stretch

The next stretch also begins by standing with your feet hip-width apart. This time, soften your knees slightly and lean forward at your waist so that your hands touch your toes. 

Once your hands have reached your toes – or as close as you can comfortably get – bend your knees so that you are in a squatting position. With your knees bent, keep your elbows inside your legs and use your arms to gently push your knees apart – thus stretching out your hips. Lift your chest, pause, and then straighten out your legs to return to the starting position. 

Ideally, you should do three sets of five repetitions of this stretch.

5) Lying hip rotations

The lying hip rotation movement is a good exercise to help alleviate some of that day to day hip tightness. You begin by lying on your back with both knees bent. Then cross your right ankle over your left knee – almost like you’re sitting cross-legged in a chair. Use your arms to gently pull your left thigh into your right ankle to activate the stretch for your right hip. Hold for a few seconds and then repeat with the left side.

6) Single-leg hip circles

You should begin this stretch on all fours. Place your hands directly under your shoulders and your knees directly under your hips with your toes pointed out. Spread your feet shoulder-width apart. Using your core muscles for support, lift one leg up and out to the side. Make ten forward circles with your knee, and then ten backward circles with your knee. Carefully return to the starting position and repeat with the other leg.

Why is hip mobility so important?

All too often, people don’t realize how much one part of their body can affect the way other parts feel. When you have improved hip mobility, you can often decrease some of the strain on your lower back or knees, as well. The simple act of regularly stretching your hips and activating those muscles can make many daily activities more comfortable.

Healthy and flexible hip flexors can make your walking, running, and even stair-climbing easier and more efficient. This improved mobility and ease of movement can also help you be more comfortable when you need to spend a lot of time sitting – whether at the office or on a long car ride.

You can think of your hips as sort of the movement center of your body. They’re right at the top of your legs – and that’s where most of the motions involved in daily activity start. 

So when your hips are tight, that can cause a sort of chain reaction that can make those activities more difficult. When you have tight hips, maybe you can’t squat as easily as you need to, which can lead to some additional tightness in your hamstrings, which can then go on to affect the way you walk… Which, later on down the line, can lead to lower back pain. And all that started from tight hips.

How do you know if your hip flexors are tight?

Pain and discomfort in your hips are the main indicators of hip tightness. But what if it’s not just hip pain, and you are experiencing pain elsewhere? Could that be related to tight hips? If you have lower back pain or issues with your hamstrings, there is an easy test you can do at home to assess the flexibility of your hip flexor muscles [2].

  • Lie down face-up on a stable, flat surface such as the floor or a bench
  • Bring both of your knees to your chest
  • Use your arms to hold your right knee against your chest and straighten your left leg
  • Lower your left leg down as far as possible
  • Repeat the process with your left leg against your chest and your right leg straight

If you cannot lower your leg completely to the surface, you have some tightness in your hip flexors. 

Can massage help tight hip flexors?

If you’ve tested the flexibility of your hip flexors, you may be wondering what you can do to regain some mobility. The stretches discussed above can help with your range of motion, but there are other things you can also do to improve your tight hips. 

Massage therapy helps to relieve tight hips in several ways. It stretches tissues that cannot easily be stretched by yourself, and it increases blood flow in the affected areas. Additionally, massage therapy for tight hips can release endorphins – which not only leaves you feeling good, but can help reduce hip pain [3].

Freedom of motion for more comfortable activity

Safely and effectively loosening your tight hips can not only improve your hip mobility, but can leave you feeling better about your ability to do your day-to-day activities with comfort and ease. 

You can fit hip stretches into your morning routine – and you may find that they’re great for getting you ready to start the day. Regardless of when you do them, spending just a few minutes everyday on hip stretches for tight hips can help alleviate your current tightness and help prevent additional discomfort in the future. 

Takeaway

Our fast-paced lifestyle is dominated by too many hours of sitting and not enough movement. This tends to tighten the hips and cause hip pain in the long run. 

Fortunately, there are many hip stretches for tight hips that can help alleviate the pain and allow you to lead a more comfortable life.

Start with warm-up stretches (like the lateral and forward pendulum). Once you’re ready, you can move on to more advanced hip stretches like quad stretches, squats, and lying hip rotations.  

Your hips are the movement center of your body. By keeping your hips healthy and flexible, you’re also helping to prevent many other mobility problems like chronic lower back pain.  

About the Author

Kristina DeMatas

Kristina DeMatas

D.O.
A graduate of A.T. Still’s Kirksville College of Osteopathic Medicine, Dr. Kristina DeMatas practices holistic, evidence-based family and sports medicine that focuses on treating injuries and transforming lives through prevention, rehabilitation, and diet. Dr. DeMatas also has a Bachelor of Science (BS) in Nutrition Sciences.