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Tight Hip Symptoms & What To Do About Them.

body insights Feb 22, 2020

As a yoga person, I got to a point after many years of practice where I felt like I was no longer developing new ranges of motion. Everything just sort of felt stuck in the same place year after year, no matter how many times I practiced or repeated different poses. 

That, in and of itself, wasn’t super concerning to me. What was concerning to me is that I seemed to always feel a bit achy, tight and like I was on the verge of an injury. So practicing yoga was no longer  fun because everything sort of hurt or creaked or felt otherwise weak.

 At 29 years old, it got to the point where I thought to myself: If I feel this terrible now, how am I going to feel in my 40s?! 

Now, I don’t want to fault my yoga practice for this, because I’m pretty sure that had I done no movement at all I would be in a far worse situation. So yoga was definitely helping keep my body at least somewhat partially conditioned. Instead, what this ended up showing me is that there were a lot of gaps in my movement practice that I wasn’t taking the time to learn about or take action on. 

Movement has the potential to make our bodies feel and work better as we age. So that little symptom of always feeling tight in the same places no matter how much I stretched? That was a sign that something was off in my movement practice. 

It turns out, I needed to learn more about active range of motion and the importance of control in order to really transform those feelings of tightness and gain new end ranges in my mobility.

What Does It Mean To Have Tight Hips? 

When our hips feel tight, our nervous system is trying to communicate something to us. 

Our brain wants the muscles surrounding the hip joint--on the fronts, backs and insides of the thighs, and surrounding the pelvis--to be able to articulate the actions of the hip joint in a controlled way. 

Actions of the hip include: 

  • Flexion: Rotating the thigh bone in the pelvis socket to draw the thigh toward the abdomen. 

  • Extension: Rotating the thigh bone in the pelvis socket to draw the thigh away from the abdomen. 

  • Rotation: Rotating the thigh bone in the pelvis socket both internally and externally. 

  • Abduction/Adduction: Drawing the thigh bones towards and away from each other within the pelvis socket. 

When our nervous system senses that our hips are under-conditioned, it will communicate this to us via a sensation of tightness around the joint. 

When we have a limited active range of motion in our hips, it can mean a couple of things. First, we have less mobility than our full potential, which makes other structures work harder in some movement scenarios. Second, we are less stable in our hips, meaning that we aren’t able to actively control its actions. 

It’s this control piece--when our hip lacks stability--that often creates a feeling of tightness. When our brain senses that one of the most powerful structures of the body--the hips--are unable to deliberately control their movements through a full range of motion, it’s going to hold us back from what we’re theoretically capable of doing. The result is that we will feel tight.

Why Is Control Important? 

There is a way to do something with control and there is a way to do something out of control, and there is a time and place for both. 

When it comes to working on range of motion, control is the name of the game. When we are able to move with control through a full range of motion, our nervous system becomes very confident in the capacity of that part of the body. Our brain can sense that this area of the body is strong, stable and highly sensitized--from our brain’s perspective, this is a hip that can take on problems and win. It’s natural for our brain to like this, and so almost as a reward, it reduces its output of pain and tightness in that area, making our hips feel good. 

Relieving Tight Hips

Ideally, we would train our hips to articulate all of their different joint positions everyday, and by doing that, we would develop into new end ranges over time. This is in addition to the strength and stability we would gain by using our muscles with control to perform these joint actions. 

In order to relieve general feelings of pain or tightness in the hips, we need to develop our tissues to the point that the nervous system is confident in the capacity of that part of our body. In essence, we need to develop hip stability. 

Our hips are designed to propell us forward, hold us upright and move us closer and farther away from the earth. To do all of these things well, our hips need to be strong, stable and mobile. Our goal with our movement practice is to get our brain to perceive and be able to use our hips as the strong, stable, mobile structures they are designed to be. 

To truly relieve tight hips, we need to respect the role of the nervous system in both movement and pain, and understand what our nervous system is asking us to do based on the feelings it’s generating in the body. If we are experiencing pain or tightness, our nervous system is telling us that something about those structures and the surrounding structures is not fully balanced.

Making It Fun

When things are fun to do, we are more likely to do them. And this is why it’s important for our movement practice to be fun. 

For me, movement is fun. Actually, let me add a modifier: Movement that makes sense is fun. For me, I actually love moving slowly and with control and learning how movement works in my tissues and brain. So asking me to train all my joint positions with control everyday sounds to me like I just won a vacation. 

But if that sounds more like a prison sentence to you, I encourage you to go seek out teachers and styles of movement that are fun and fresh and new for your body to do. Because you may not be the person who’s interested in yoga or Functional Range Conditioning or Kinstretch or pilates, but you may like rock climbing or swimming or hiking or jiu-jitsu. And if you’re moving at least a little bit everyday--even if it’s a simple commitment to walk 4,000 steps--you will start to feel better in parts of your body over time.

And over time, as what you do becomes easier and more accessible, you may start branching out to other modalities that load your body in different ways and generate more confidence in the nervous system. 

If you’re ready to start training your active range of motion, the resource that has given me the most personal benefit is Functional Range Conditioning, which as a yoga person I love because I can incorporate many of the movements into yoga poses and sequences. FRC is a system of movement designed to assess and develop our full potential range of motion in every structure of the body. 

Yoga, while great, is not designed to train all joint positions equally. After years and years of yoga practice and nothing else, my nervous system was ultimately trying to tell me about this imbalance through the output of pain and tightness. 

Now, I embrace different types of movement because I know that a diverse diet of movement nutrients is what my nervous system needs to feel confident in my body’s structures. 

 

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