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October 3, 2012
Why Hip Flexors Are Tight and Why Your Hips Pop
Go ahead, lie on your back with your knees bent, straighten one leg, and you’ll likely here some hip pops as your leg is lowered to the floor. If you don’t feel/hear that sound, you either
  1. didn’t do the above correctly
  2. don’t exercise enough
  3. don’t sit enough
Since we are all guilty of the above, let’s move onto to the broader cause of that hip pop, which is overuse of your hip musculature. And yes, sitting qualifies as overuse too!

The Anatomy of Your Hips and the LPHC

That sound occurs when your muscle, tendon, or ligament rolls over a bony prominence in your pelvis. But really the issue goes beyond your hips, and involves a region called the lumbo-pelvic-hip complex (LPHC). Working from the ground up, your hip bone attaches to your pelvis, your pelvis then attaches to your sacrum (tailbone), and your sacrum attaches to your lumbar spine (low back). There are over 30 muscles anchored to this region, serving as the true center for all human body movement, hence the name “core” (see Sparta Point). Many of the common injuries associated with the LPHC can be low back pain, sacro-iliac dysfunction, groin strains, sports hernia, and snapping hip syndrome just to name a few.

Bad Hips Are From Bad Ankles & Feet

However most of the athletes we see with the above complaints suffer from inadequacies in their lower leg, far below the muscles and joints of the LPHC. Since everything begins from the GRF), we will start with these athletes lack of LOAD, the muscular strength (stiffness) in the gastrocnemius and lower leg muscles (see Sparta Point). The lack of stiffness here places significantly more stress on the hip muscles, particularly the hip flexors. No problem is ever isolated though, so these athletes could also have a faulty motor program (see Sparta Point). This means that even if the lower leg muscles are strong, the athlete may not initiate movements from the feet/ankle, instead starting the movement primarily from the hips. The movement signatureTM  with this athlete is called “turn out”, referring to the common position of the feet, since all force is intiated and transmitted through this region first. Athletes whose feet are turned out are generally a result of the hip being turned out, which can cause excessive loading of the hips instead of distributing the load evenly throughout the entire leg, hip, and trunk. So the inital problem with such individuals is LPHC muscle and joint overuse, especially the hip flexors which cause the hip pop.

Load Your Ankles & Calves More!

The solution is movements that improve the strength of the lower leg (gastroceniums), both through strength and sequencing. Focusing on sled drags with a neutral foot is a great start (see Sparta Point). Another great combination we use to improve this LOAD is one leg box squat combined with forward hop, shown below. This pairing focusing on the strengthening of this lower leg and an immediate use of this motor program in a more dynamic setting like a jump to avoid overuse of the hip flexors and subsequent hip pops. So be as clear with your exercise choices as you are with the direction your feet are pointing, they both dictate your outcome.
October 3, 2012
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6 thoughts on “Why Hip Flexors Are Tight and Why Your Hips Pop”

  1. It’s amazing that you can identify specific types of muscle imbalances and flexibility problems from these force/time charts. Can you identify why knees pop from this? Since I was a teenager, my knees pop almost every time I squat to parallel. It doesn’t hurt, though.

  2. We see knees “popping” when there is inflammation or crepitus present. The most common movement signature associated with this sympton is “loose”, athletes lack the necessary strength (stiffness) in the quadriceps to brace the knee joint.

  3. Hi guys! Fantastic article. Thanks for taking the time to put it together. I was just hoping to get a little bit more clarification on a routine that could be used to improve the loading of the gastrocnemius. Would something like Calf raises (or some other strengthening exercise) followed by the one legged box squats and forward hops (as described in the article) be appropriate? Would love to hear your response. Thanks again 🙂

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