This subject has been floating around in my mind for some time. I have been wanting to tackle some muscles of the pelvis and hip that aren’t spoken enough of (until you’re rehabilitating them due to an injury) and tend to be problematic. A feeling of “tightness” may very well be the first sign that a dedicated set of exercises and consistent routine are in order. For this blog post, I’ve chosen three muscles, by far not an exhaustive list. I was inspired to write this from my experience working as a massage therapist and treating many people. I’ll dive right into it!
A feeling of “tightness” may very well
be the first sign that a dedicated set of exercises
and consistent routines are in order.
Pectineus, I have a personal beef with pectineus. This muscle has been causing me pain in my right thigh and harbors a trigger point that radiates with a dull ache around my groin. Pectineus can be found in the medial upper thigh (bilaterally). It attaches from the pubis bone to the medial femur (lesser trochanter of the femur) just below the hip joint. This muscle serves to adduct and flex the femur – moves the thigh across the front of the body and toward the midline.
In all my textbooks, it’s listed as a medial (internal) rotator of the hip. However, I’ve noticed it’s listed as a lateral (external) rotator in recent texts. I did some research and found this paper by the Orthopaedic Research Society, and it seems it was found to do both actions. In the end, its primary action is adduction and flexion of the thigh.
If you routinely play soccer or hockey or are in the habit of sitting cross-legged for a prolonged time, this muscle gets tense since it’s chronically overloaded. If you have limitations in this muscle, your gait and squatting mechanics are affected, and your risk of a groin pull is high (especially in sports activities that involve quick sudden movements).
If it feels tight and has a decreased range of motion around the hip joint, following a systematic stretching routine would be beneficial. The first step would be a self-myofascial release (SMR), more commonly known as foam rolling. Why? Muscles, tendons, fascia, and skin have mechanoreceptors that respond to external tension, pressure, and vibration, by relaxing the tone in the muscle, thus facilitating a static stretch. When doing SMR, you are searching for those trigger points which tend to feel tender, sore, or painful. Check out the video below, which targets pectineus.
SMR is followed by a static stretch held for a minimum of 30 seconds. The last step would be to activate the opposing muscle group by performing an exercise that recruits it through its full range of motion. For this example, the opposing muscle group is the abductors of the hip; gluteus medius; gluteus minimus; TFL. Performing a hip abduction (moving the leg away from the midline of the body) would be appropriate.
Tensor Fasciae Latae
This muscle (TFL for short) is a fun one but does not show up in many articles. A strong TFL with proper extensibility will allow you to bust a move like the one above! Okay, not solely on its own, but it is vital for pelvic stability.
The TFL is a small superficial muscle located right below the iliac crest, what most people think of as the hip bone, which is the ilium of the pelvis (see photos below). It continues downward to merge with the iliotibial tract (commonly referred to as the IT band), which also merges with the connective tissue of the gluteus maximus. The IT band is a wide tendinous sheet of fascia; think of it as a large wide tendon it attaches to the lateral condyle of the tibia (shin bone).
Through its connection with the IT band, it assists in knee flexion and lateral rotation of the lower leg. It’s a key muscle in stabilizing the pelvis during ambulation, helping to anchor one hip while the other one rises and swings the leg forward.
With all this great power comes great responsibility! These muscles get stressed from running on uneven surfaces or immobilizing a limb for an extended period. If it’s chronically tight, you might have issues with gait, pain deep in the hip, or patella tracking dysfunction via its connection to the IT band. The video below demonstrates an SMR technique for TFL.
the main bridge between your spine and lower body
The Iliopsoas is a feisty group. These muscles cause quite a stir! Everyone who sits for an extended period may very well have tight iliopsoas or low back pain. Why? The psoas is a major bridge between the spine and the lower body. When we sit, they are forced into a shortened position. Over time the muscles become adaptively short (constricted, lose extensibility) and might compress the lumbar discs leading to pain.
This is where I preach the importance of posture and ergonomics; If sitting for an extended time consider adding lumbar support; a folded towel placed under and across the hips to reduce tension; computer should be placed at eye level; elbows at 90 degrees, wrist neutral; get up every 30 minutes to decrease tension and ease circulation of fluids;
The psoas comprises two muscles, the illiacus and psoas major (interesting note, some individuals have a psoas minor). The psoas major originates from the anterolateral lower vertebrae (T12-L5), travels through the pelvis, and inserts at the medial femur below the hip joint (specifically, the lesser trochanter of the femur). The iliacus is located in the iliac fossa (for a visual, cup your hand slightly, the fossa would be the cup) and also attaches to the lesser trochanter of the femur. Both muscles flex the hip, laterally rotate the hip, and anteriorly tilt the pelvis. Psoas major assists in lateral flexion of the spine. It’s a main lower back stabilizer and allows you to flex your trunk forward when your legs are stabilized. If you’ve ever done a traditional sit-up and felt more strain in your hips than your abs, it’s because the psoas completed the action, not the abdominals.
Aside from sitting for an extended period, other things that cause strain to the iliopsoas are; running downhill – if you’re into that sort of stuff; trunk rotation with the feet fixed in place; overload from bad postural habits. The iliopsoas is difficult and uncomfortable to perform SMR. They are located within deep structures. If you’re experiencing tension in your hip flexors, a trained manual therapist would know how to asses them and address them safely and effectively.
The real trick with the iliopsoas is identifying if they are not just tight but are they weak? I’ve linked a video below that explains this very well.
I hope this post has been insightful for those experiencing hip tension. Remember every body is unique in its construction. The information on this site is not intended as a substitute for professional medical advice. If pain is present and tension is chronic, see your doctor for the appropriate treatment.
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Stand tall, Breathe deep~