I’ve had too many patients tell me they feel that their squat mobility is being limited by their tight hip flexors, and I’ve seen way too many Instagram posts claiming that a hip flexor stretch will cure anterior hip pain during squatting. Let me tell you why this isn’t true and give you some tips to actually help that pain in the front of your hip.
First, we need to think about the hip flexors and what they do. These muscles cross the front of the hip and help to flex (or bend) the hip joint when the foot is free, like kicking a ball. They’re stretched when the hip is straightened and the leg is extended past the torso. When the hip is bent and our foot is on the ground, such as in the bottom of a deep squat, the hip flexor muscles are on slack and unlikely to be a cause “tightness” at the front of the hip.
Now let’s consider OTHER structures in the front of the hip, such as the bony contact between the “ball and socket”, the hip labrum, and the ligaments/capsule that surround the hip joint. These tissues ARE stressed when our hip is flexed into a deep position and can be compressed and irritated with very deep or repetitive flexion movements if we lack adequate stability. You can see this in my very “hip dominant” squat pattern compared to a more upright version:
So if someone’s having pain in the front of their hip while squatting, we don’t jump right into a hip flexor stretch. Instead, we look for the reasons WHY they’re getting so much compression. Some really common things are:
- Mobility deficits: stiffness at the ankle and thoracic spine will limit the depth of the squat and cause the squatter to bend more at the hips to compensate.
- Strength deficits: relatively weak quads will result in the glutes and hamstrings “taking over” to rise out of the bottom of the squat. Think of your stripper squat here.
- Motor control problems: an excessively “arched” lower back or unstable core will also put the hip into a more flexed and compressed position.
We address these issues via a combination of manual therapy, stretching, and exercise, then we hit allll the squats to reinforce the new pattern. It’s actually SO cool to see how pain can change with this whole-body treatment approach. At The Body Lab, we’ll look at all aspects that could be contributing to your pain to give you the best possible treatment plan. If your current treatment plan isn’t working, one of our docs will assess it and get you back on track.
Are you someone struggling with pain in the front of your hip, limitations during your squat, or chronically “tight” hip flexors? We’d love to help you out! You can book an appointment with either of our providers here.