Hip flexor strain can occur when the hip flexor muscles are pulled, strained, torn, or injured. Many activities may cause the condition and symptoms can include sharp pain, stiffness, and reduced mobility.
The hip flexors connect the top of the femur, which is the largest bone in the body, to the lower back, hips, and groin. There are various hip flexor muscles that all work to enable a person to move.
- the iliacus and psoas major muscles that are also referred to as iliopsoas
- the rectus femoris, which is part of a person’s quadriceps
Overuse or overstretching of these muscles and tendons can result in injury, accompanying pain, and reduced mobility.
Damage to the hip area can vary from minor injuries that require little treatment to more severe injuries that result in the muscles disconnecting from the bone. The most serious hip flexor injuries are third-degree sprains where the bone breaks alongside the muscle sprain.
Many people who experience hip flexor strain will have these symptoms as well:
- sudden, sharp pain in the hip or pelvis after trauma to the area
- pain when lifting the leg
- cramping, stiffness, and weakness in the muscles of the upper leg area
- muscle spasms in the hip or thighs
- inability to continue kicking, jumping, or sprinting
- reduced mobility and discomfort when moving, including limping
Hip exercises can help strengthen the hip flexor muscles. Most exercises can be done at home and are gentle stretches, which will help to reduce tension and prevent further or future injury.
In addition to exercises that can be done at home, gentle swimming and cycling can be beneficial for improving strength and preventing hip flexor strain.
Warming up muscles before beginning exercises will help to ensure they are ready to be stretched and may prevent further straining.
Applying heat to the area and going for a gentle walk for a few minutes are ideal ways to warm up before beginning the stretches.
The following stretches can help to:
- reduce tightness
- increase flexibility
- strengthen muscles
- prevent injury
Hip flexor stretch
Standing in a wide walking position, a person should put both hands on a firm support in front of them. Lunge forward and bend the front knee. They should push their hips forward while keeping their back straight. Hold for 20–30 seconds and repeat 5 times.
Seated butterfly stretch
Sitting up straight on the floor, individuals should place the soles of their feet together, letting their knees bend outwards. Their heels should be pulled gently inwards, and their knees should drop farther towards the floor. Hold the stretch for 10–30 seconds.
To do this pose, a person should lie on their back with their knees bent and feet on the floor. They should take a deep breath before raising their hips off the floor while squeezing their glutes. Hold for a moment, gently lower, and repeat.
A person should begin by standing straight with their feet together. They will take a step forward with their right foot, bending their knee and transferring their weight onto that leg before lowering their hips to the floor and holding the position. This should then be repeated on the other side.
Individuals should start by lying flat on their back with their legs straight. They will slowly pull the knee of their right leg towards their chest, as close as possible without straining. After slowly lowering the leg, repeat the same on the opposite side.
Supine hip extension
Lie on a bench facing up. Individuals should make sure their sit bones are on the bottom edge of the bench. Plant one leg on the ground, and then bend the knee of the other leg and lift toward the chest. Take 5 deep breaths, then switch to the other side. Repeat 9 times. Stop if any pain occurs.
For minor hip flexor injuries, some people may not visit their doctor and instead will treat themselves from home.
Some common ways to help treat hip flexor strain are:
- resting the muscles to help them heal while avoiding activities that could cause further strain
- wearing a compression wrap around the area, which is available to buy in pharmacies or online
- applying an ice pack to the affected area, which is available to buy in pharmacies or online
- applying a heat pack to the affected area, which is available to buy in pharmacies or online
- a hot shower or bath
- over-the-counter pain relievers, such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), acetaminophen (Tylenol), or naproxen sodium (Aleve)
When taking these medications, it is important to follow the instructions and not use them for more than 10 days.
If the pain persists despite these remedies, a person should make an appointment with their doctor to discuss alternative treatments.
When the damage is extensive, a doctor may recommend an individual to contact a physical therapist or undergo surgery to repair the muscle. However, instances of damage this severe are rare.
If hip flexor strain causes a limp or the symptoms do not get better after resting and treating at home for a week, it may be advisable to contact a doctor.
While a mild hip flexor strain can take just a few weeks to heal, it may take more than 6 weeks to recover from a more severe strain.
Hip flexor strains usually happen when a person bends the muscle in an unusual way very quickly. A person’s hip flexors are engaged when they bring their knee up towards their torso.
Hip flexors are put under the most strain during activities such as dancing, martial arts, or running. Athletes who use the hip flexors in their sport and training are more susceptible to hip flexor strain or injury that can cause the muscles to tear.
A person will usually feel a strong “pop” in the anterior hip immediately after the unexpected motion. Pain and swelling usually follow. In sports medicine, it is thought that many hip flexor wounds are associated with hamstring strains.
People who are particularly vulnerable to hip flexor strain, such as athletes or those who regularly participate in vigorous activities that could damage or overstretch the hip flexors, can take precautions to avoid injury.
Ensuring muscles are properly warmed up before taking part in physical activity and doing exercises to strengthen the muscles can help to keep the area flexible and strong as well as reduce the chances of damage occurring.
In addition, eating a balanced diet and maintaining a good weight can help keep the body healthy and reduce stress on the hips.
Hip flexor strain can be painful and uncomfortable, but it is rarely a cause for concern. How long the strain takes to heal will depend on the severity of the injury, but it is usually a few weeks for mild strains and up to 6 weeks for more serious damage.
Resting and stopping activities that might have caused the strain will give a person the best chance to heal and recover quickly.