Hip flexors are the group of muscles that aid in physical mobility throughout the lower portion of the body including the legs, knees, groin, and hips. Hip flexor strain occurs when either one or more of these muscles sustain some sort of injury or overextension beyond their natural capabilities as a result of long periods of inactivity or disuse.
A variety of muscle groups work in unison to form the hip flexors and facilitate movement in the lower half of the body. These are known as iliopsoas (combination of iliacus and psoas major muscles) and the femoris, which is located within the quadriceps.
The hip flexors link the femur—which is the largest bone in the body—to the groin, lower back, and the hips. Leading a largely inactive or sedentary lifestyle can cause the hip flexors to become incredibly tight over time. Once your hip flexor muscles reach this point, overextension far beyond the scope of their means can cause major or minor strain. This is why it’s always important to engage in light and gentle stretches before and after every workout or movement that could potentially apply pressure to any part of your body.
Depending on the extent of the injury or strain, surgical treatment may be required. Without proper rest and treatment, hip flexor injuries and the accompanying pain can worsen over time, especially if you continue applying pressure to them.
Grades of Hip Flexor Pain
Elderly people and professional athletes are most likely to suffer a strained hip flexor injury due to weakened muscle mass and overuse of their muscles, respectively. This type of injury is typically characterized by varying degrees of pain, inflammation, tenderness, weakness, and decreased range of mobility in the front hip area.
As a matter of fact, there are actually three grades of hip flexor pain that you may experience and they can each affect the torn muscles differently. The level of pain you feel is directly correlated to your treatment options, so it’s important to be as accurate as possible when describing it to your doctor.
- Hip Flexor Strain Grade I: Minimal amount of pain caused by minor damage to a limited number of hip flexor muscles.
- Hip Flexor Strain Grade II: Multiple torn muscle fibers in the hip flexors resulting in moderately reduced mobility and functionality.
- Hip Flexor Strain Grade III: All muscle fibers are severely damaged, causing intolerable pain—immediate treatment is required.
Causes, Risk Factors, And Symptoms of Hip Flexor Strain
As mentioned, athletes are among those who are most likely to suffer a hip flexor strain injury due to their overly active lifestyles. Steady, repetitive movements can place a great deal of stress on the muscle fibers located within the hip flexors. Conversely, the pressure that exacerbates hip flexor strain risk factors can also gradually accumulate over time, causing injury later in life as well.
It may be difficult to believe, but there is such a thing as being too physically active and overexerting or overextending your body—a lot of professional athletes are guilty of this. Soccer players, track and field runners, cyclists, martial artists, and hockey players are at risk of enduring severe hip flexor strains.
Failing to stretch properly before and after every workout or period of physical exertion is a major faux pas in the field of athletics and unfortunately, far too many people don’t take this as seriously as they should.
Here’s an extensive list of possible hip flexor strain causes:
- The stiffness of the joins in the knees, lower back, hips
- Chronic fatigue
- Inadequate biomechanical structure
- Lack of proper fitness and nutrition
- Improper posture
- Muscle tightness in the hip flexors, hamstrings, quadriceps, and glutes
- Failing to stretch the muscles in preparation for extensive physical activity
- Neglecting to rest or undergo proper treatment following a previous muscle injury
- Weak pelvic and core stability
- Imbalances in the muscles
- Neural tension
Hip flexor strain symptoms include:
- Pain, pressure, tenderness, weakness, and bruising in the front of the hip
- Sudden shooting or prolonged pains that worsen with movement of the hips or legs
How to Diagnose and Treat Hip Flexor Strain
Hip Flexor Strain Diagnosis
Any combination of the abovementioned symptoms of hip flexor strain can serve as a clear indication of whether or not you’ve sustained an injury in that region of the body. Nonetheless, it’s always advised to seek out professional medical examination and treatment if you suspect that you might have suffered a potentially serious injury. Even if you’re only experiencing mild pain or discomfort now, keep in mind that with continued neglect and use of the muscles, these symptoms could gradually worsen as you get older.
There are a number of helpful methods of diagnosing injuries to the hip flexor. First and foremost, your doctor or physiotherapist will conduct a physical exam to determine the level, cause, and location of pain you’re experiencing. At the same time, they’re also checking for signs of inflammation, bruising, and abnormalities in your muscle fibers. If this form of examination proves to be insufficient, they might also resort to using X-rays, CT scans, MRI scans, or ultrasounds just to rule out all possible worst-case scenarios.
Hip Flexor Strain Treatment
Fortunately, there are a variety of relief methods available for people who’ve strained their hip flexor muscles. Some of these hip flexor strain treatments can be done in the comfort of your own home, while others include medical or surgical treatment. The type and extent of the treatment recommended by your physician depend entirely on the gravity of the injury incurred.
Minor hip flexor injuries can easily be treated at home. The key is to implement what is colloquially referred to as the RICE method. RICE is a fairly self-explanatory at-home treatment technique that stands for:
In addition to meticulously caring for your injury, you should also make a strong effort to modify your movements to avoid an unexpected flare-up. Give your body enough time to recover from the injury before resuming your regular physical activity.
Your doctor can also recommend appropriate hip flexor strain exercises based on your level of pain to help alleviate some of the symptoms you may be experiencing. Pelvic tilts, lying hip flexor stretches, yogic bridges, and steamboats are all easy exercises that you can do at home with minimal or no equipment required. The goal of these light and gentle stretches is to help you regain mobility and flexibility in your hip flexor muscles over an extended period without overexerting yourself.
Other treatments for hip flexor strain may include prescription anti-inflammatory medications for severe pain, crutches to help remove some of the pressure from your hips, using a brace to provide support to your hip flexor muscles, or taping your hip area to help assuage swelling.
Recovery Time for Hip Flexor Strain
Truthfully, there’s no universal answer to the question “how long does it take to recover from a hip flexor strain?” because every patient’s health, level of fitness, lifestyle, and injury varies.
Perhaps the best piece of advice anyone can give you when it comes to effective hip flexor strain recovery is to immediately implement the RICE method once symptoms begin to surface. Following that, seek immediate medical attention. Initially, you might assume that the injury isn’t that serious, but if it’s neglected long enough, it’ll inevitably get worse over time and limit the functionality of your hip flexor muscles.
If you’re wondering how to heal hip flexor strain, early diagnosis and appropriate treatments are your best defense against progression. As a good frame of reference, keep in mind that minor hip flexor injuries generally have a fairly short recovery time of about two to three weeks, whereas severe injuries can take anywhere from four to eight weeks to heal.
The hips are arguably one of the most important bone structures in the body because they hold the majority of your weight and control a great deal of your movement. For those reasons alone, it’s imperative that you don’t take potential injuries pertaining to the hips lightly..
Also read: Hip Flexor Strain Prevention and Exercises