Why Tight Hip Flexors Cause Lower Back Pain

Barry Harpur Principal Osteopath Kinesis Clinic
Barry Harpury
Principal Osteopath
Date Posted
March 8, 2017

You soon learn as an osteopath that every body is different and unique. No two postures, movements or conditions are the same from one person to another.

That being said however, there are certain things that you become very used to seeing; tight hip flexors being a prime example. We are a nation of sitters and our poor hip flexors are not thanking us for it.

The hip flexors are a group of muscles at the front of your hips that allow you to pull your knees up towards your chest.
When seated, the hips are maintained in this flexed position. Although they allow you to achieve this movement, the hip flexors are not designed to spend prolonged periods doing it and, actually, their true function is quite the opposite.

In order to explain the true function of the hip flexors, we firstly need to look at a key principle of the human body called “load to explode”!

Load to explode – what is it and why is it important?

You may often hear osteopaths or personal trainers using the world “load” when referring to muscles.

The true meaning of the word “load” is when a muscle is active or tense while in a position of stretch. For example, when you are in a squat, the muscles in your bottom (glutes) are under stretch and also active in order to support your body weight under the force of gravity. We could describe the glutes in this position as being “loaded”.

Muscles are like slings, they are designed to catch the body at the end of a movement such as a squat and fire you back in the other direction.

If you wanted to “explode” out of a squat into a jump, you would have to go through the “load” phase first.

Try jumping up without bending your knees first – you can’t do it. There is no “explode” without the initial muscle “load”.

Let’s apply this to the hip flexors.

This muscle group is under stretch when the leg is behind the trunk.

If our hips had no ability to extend behind our bodies, due to very tight hip flexors, then we may begin to walk very differently.

Let’s imagine that we have such tight hip flexors that we can’t extend our hips when walking – this is more common that you think!! How do we think the body may adapt…

Try it for yourself – take a long(ish) stride forward while keeping your back heel on the ground. Can you keep your body upright, or does it want to lurch forward? If it’s lurching forward, it may suggest that your hip flexors are very tight.

The body, however, is smarter than this. Despite the fact that a lot of us have very tight hip flexors, we don’t all walk around looking at the ground with our bodies bent forward. The body will do what it can to lift the chest and the eyes so that you can see where you are going! But if it can’t get that extension from the hips, it will steal it from somewhere else.

How about another part of the body nearby that has the ability to extend – the lower back!

The lower back is happy giving you a small degree of extension when you walk, but it will soon become rather annoyed if it has to regularly work hard to extend your body because your hip flexors are not doing their job properly.

Regular over extension of the lower back is a very common way to, not only, cause back pain but also to cause degenerative changes in the lower back over long periods.

Do you have niggly back pain when sitting, or trouble bending forward to put on socks and shoes, or changing a baby – this may well be due to your back overworking and becoming fatigued.

The lower back invariably takes the blame when it becomes sore, but often it is only taking on excess work for another area of the body that is limited, tight hip flexors being a notable culprit. If you don’t use your hip extension then you will lose it, and your body find other ways to keep you upright.

So, do your lower back a big favour and stretch those hip flexors – it’s about time the two of them got on a little better.

Osteopathic assessment and treatment can help to identify and alleviate these dysfunctional patterns in the body.

Dry needling, manual techniques and assisted stretching are particularly affective to encourage more openness in the anterior hips, and more freedom in the lower back.

Let’s Recap

  • Regular sitting and cycling can cause the hip flexors to shorten
  • Tight hip flexors can cause the lower back to overwork
  • Continued overworking in the lower back can result in pain and degeneration
  • By lengthening the hip flexors, you can help the function of your lower back
  • Osteopathy, dry needling and assisting stretching help to open the hips

Osteopath Reviews

Keeping people active and pain free in Guildford
I came to Zaneta with severe lower back pain and symptoms of sciatica. She was able to quickly diagnose the root cause as weakness stemming from pregnancy and labour. The treatments provided significant relief from the pain and she has been equipping me with functional exercises to improve strength and ensure that it doesn't flare up again. I've been amazed by the results so far, Zaneta has been fantastic.
Hannah E
Hannah E
I cannot recommend the Kinesis Clinic highly enough. Earlier this year I came to Barry on the recommendation of my son for muscle pain in different areas of my body. To date he has worked a miracle and seem to be relatively pain free. Throughout this process I have tried other practitioners and none compare with Barry and his in depth knowledge. One of the most impressive things is the knowledge of his individual patients and the attention he gives you. I must also add that Lucy on reception is a real asset and is always willing to help in any way for the benefit of the clients.
Maureen kulik
Maureen kulik
There's simply no one better than Kinesis. If you're looking for an osteopath, you've found the answer! ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
Marc Gorman
Marc Gorman
I had been in pain for 7 years and thought that was what life had to be like, and then I found Barry! He worked out immediately what my issue was (a long list of people had failed!!) and in one session reduced my pain significantly. Over 4 sessions he has made significant progress on my hip and shown me what the plan is going forward. Finding Barry literally changed my life and I couldn't be more grateful to him.
Ellie Apperly
Ellie Apperly
I went to see Barry for rehab after fracturing my spine. He’s an excellent Osteopath, taking time to understand the issues, and provide the right treatment and a tailored home exercise program. His YouTube exercise videos are also very helpful to follow. My mobility and strength improved significantly as well as much less discomfort. Thank you Barry!
I had a reoccurring shoulder dislocation injury due to playing various contact sports and after numerous operations my shoulder was weak, the muscles trembled as I tried to strengthen it. After struggling with it for over 10yrs I went to see Zaneta in the clinic. The main problem for me was the trembling and shaking as I tried to exercise and lack of flexibility. Zaneta used some instrument (big stainless-steel spoon in my non-medical world) to breakdown the scar tissue. After a few weeks my shoulder was unrecognisable. I can now exercise without the shaking, meaning I can strengthen it. Interestingly, I now have a greater range of movement than my ‘good’ shoulder.
Richard Leader
Richard Leader
Ms Zaneta helped me a lot, especially when my back was falling apart after pregnancy! Huge thanks!
Ola Dos
Ola Dos
Gareth has provided to me a fantastic and very personal service regarding my shoulder and lower back problems. I would thoroughly recommend him – well done
Peter Craig
Peter Craig
I can't praise Jason highly enough, I've been seeing him for a few months and he's helped me so much, he's much more than my osteo, he's also a counsellor, business coach and all round great listener.Whenever I leave our session I feel better inside and out.
Susan Walsh
Susan Walsh
Unparalleled treatment from Barry and his team. I've sifted through many physiotherapists and osteopaths for disc related problems in the past two years before being saved by Barry; an erudite and scholarly practitioner who draws on his immense, esoteric knowledge and experience to inform sessions. Barry precisely and effectively reads/listens to my body; no session is the same and I'm always in awe of the variety of techniques he uses to diagnose and pinpoint areas of concern. His methods are subtle yet sublime: he often releases and manipulates muscle/tissue/joints from a number of points in my body where a link to the referred pain perhaps appears tenuous for a layperson like myself...I've been redirected from possible surgical intervention to non surgical treatment and management where I finally feel more stable and strong. Gareth and Jason have also played a significant part in treating me over the year and I honestly couldn't recommend them enough!
Cannot rate Barry and the clinic higher, I have met everyone there and they are all professional but very friendly. They have been great at fitting me in, supporting me and making me feel like a valued customer. Have recommended to a number of friends that have had the same experience.
Lisa Collins
Lisa Collins
I am so grateful to the whole team at Kinesis Clinic for all of the treatment I have had with them over the past 2.5 years following an accident. For the past year, Barry has helped me to heal my neck, and the dizziness associated with the injury. I feel that he really cares about his patients' recovery, and has so much wisdom to share. He has helped me to see how my mind and emotions also play a role in recovering, and this has prompted me to change patterns in my life that were worsening my symptoms. His approach to treatment has been gentle, but very effective. I can't recommend Kinesis Clinic enough. Thank you :)
Megan McInnes
Megan McInnes
The team is very welcoming and supportive with all your needs. I see them every 2 weeks just get my body sorted out to help with any niggle that come up. I would definitely recommend kinesis Clinic and there team to help you with any problems your having. Weather is sports related or your haven’t any past injuries this the team to help you.
omololu abiodun
omololu abiodun
Jason is a professional, friendly and brilliantly talented osteopath. I started treatment at the clinic for upper back/shoulder pain and migraines a few years ago and I have experienced a significant improvement in pain levels/migraines since then. Initially I had regular appointments but now I just book when needed. I get immediate relief with each session, and the positive effects often last for weeks afterwards. Out of all the treatments I have tried, Jason’s osteopathy practice at Kinesis Clinic is by far the most effective. I am so glad I found the clinic and I would now not go anywhere else. Highly recommend.
Kate M
Kate M
Gareth at the Kinesis Clinic is an amazing Osteopath. He has helped me to provide effective solutions for over 2 years with different muscular and neural issues I have had as an elite athlete. He is extremely knowledgeable in his field and can expertly used different treatments such as manual and laser therapy for rehabilitation. He always adapts his approach and provides personal home programmes to follow which greatly help too. I would definitely recommend him for anyone who wants to use the Kinesis clinic for the first time.

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Barry Harpur

Principal Osteopath

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