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
Jason treated a debilitating back injury that had left me in pain for more than a year. Prior to this, I had seen every specialist going and nothing seemed to be working, I had almost given up hope that it would ever get better. I am so glad that I came here on recommendation, as I am now almost completely pain free and can manage any twinges at home with the exercises provided.Jason was very well informed and knowledgeable, able to explain everything very clearly and talked me through treatment and what to expect every step of the way. He used a mixture of laser therapy, dry needling and manipulation and sent follow up exercises, amending my treatment plan as time went on - a completely tailored service that was adapted to my personal recovery. I felt in completely safe hands and couldn’t believe that finally, after such a long time I was seeing progress.If you’re considering seeking treatment and have tried lots of different avenues to no avail, I highly recommend giving this a try, I’m so glad that I did. The difference it has made to my day to day life is unbelievable, and I’m extremely grateful!
Lily Csombor
Lily Csombor
Five years ago I had spinal surgery following a fracture. Whilst relatively successful giving a better range of movement initially, by year three years post op intense pain had returned. I could not walk very far and only with the support of a cane.On recommendation, I booked an appointment with Barry Harpur at Kinesis Clinic in October 2023. The scar from my spinal operation is approximately eight inches long and was, in Barry's word's, like concrete. No wonder I couldn't move much.Under his care and more recently Zaneta Kwiecien, things have much improved. Zaneta has a special interest in scar tissue and has worked hard on mine, additionally giving me exercises to improve my core and general mobility and introduced me to acupuncture which I believe has been beneficial.My mobility has much improved and the scar tissue itself has improved so much that it no longer restricts my ability to bend. I only wish I had attended the clinic sooner.Today I spent four hours walking around RHS Wisley Gardens, without once resorting to the support of my cane. It is difficult to express how this feels and how grateful I am to the Kinesis Team for getting me this far in improving both my physical and mental health. I have had a particular walking goal for the last three years, and I know that this year I will achieve it.I would encourage anyone with scar tissue that has an adverse affect on health and mobility to consider a consultation at Kinesis Clinic
Chris Costa
Chris Costa
I injured myself weightlifting and my backpain was waking me up and preventing sleep. Jason was fantastic, very professional, calm and great at explaining everything he was doing and why, which made me feel very comfortable and literally 'in safe hands'. He not only manipulated the injured area but also used a laser therapy which felt amazing. He kept the exercises I needed to do at home simple, and sent a video for future reference. Having had an awful experience of another osteopath who literally sat behind his desk, lectured me and did nothing re actually treating my injury beyond a few at home exercises, Jason and Kinesis were brilliant. The pain gradually got better and now I simply come in for a top up if anything tweaks.I cannot recommend them highly enough.
Sally Davis
Sally Davis
Six years ago I fell out of a raft whilst white water rafting, bouncing over some rocks I cracked some vertebrae.The following year having fallen again I started to have severe pains in my hip and leg making it painful to walk.Over the next years I tried all sorts of treatment, painkillers, injections and manipulation. Nothing seemed to work and I was beginning to give up.In October last year a friend suggested I try once again with a practice in Guildford called Kinesis Clinic.I made an appointment for an initial assessment and met Miss Zaneta Kwiecien. Having been assured that something could be done to lesson the pain I booked for treatment to begin.I could not believe it but after just a few sessions I began to feel an improvement. Now months on I walk my dogs for a hour or more a day with only a little discomfort and some days NO pain.The mixture of laser, aquapuncture, manipulation and most important designed exercises has changed my life.Many, many thanksRobin Gardner
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
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

Let's treat your pain today

Barry Harpur

Principal Osteopath

Taking the first steps to becoming pain free is a commitment that we respect.

My team and I are here to reassure you that you will be treated with respect, care and honesty.

Please book your appointment and we’ll be ready to help you become pain free, move and feel great again.