The hip flexor muscles as they are collectively known, are a grouping of 9 separate muscles located in the hip area that work together to make various flexing movements along the hip possible. With those 9 different muscles involved comes 9 different sets of potential problems, the most common being various degrees of strains and one type of it is hip flexor strain.
Before we can delve into how these muscles can get injured, it is important to first learn about their functions and how they attach at the hip.
Getting to Know Your Hip Flexor Muscles
These muscles of the hip are grouped together into collectives as either a combined name as in the iliopsoas, or within compartments as in the anterior and medial compartments of the hip. These groupings are based upon common related function as a correlation to their location.
There is also one lone wolf in terms of groupings as one of your gluteal muscles doubles as a hip flexor and has no neighboring muscles that work along side it to help you flex those hips.
The combined name is the mash up of the psoas and iliacus major muscles. This super team of muscles work together to provide the greatest flexion of the hip out of the hip flexor muscles.
The psoas muscle originates all the way up at the beginning of the lumbar region of the spine and travels down through the inner hip to attach at the top end of the femur of thigh bone closest to the hip. This muscle by itself is responsible for allowing you to bend from left to right about the hips and also allows you to lift yourself up from laying down on your back.
The iliacus originates at the very top of the iliac fossa, the main body of the outside of the hips that resemble butterfly wings. The muscle covers virtually all of the front of this flat hip bone and travels down to attach the same area of the femur that the psoas stops at. It is responsible on its own for allowing flexing of the thigh bone forward.
These two muscles are kept together by an outer fibrous tissue sheath called a fascia. The long and thin psoas and the flat and short iliacus combine their separate functions to enable several vital actions including standing still, running, walking, and the ever so important ability to sit up.
Actually, without the iliopsoas muscles, it would be impossible to sit up from a position of laying down. In many ways, the iliopsoas muscles are to thank for as you’re getting out of bed in the morning—allowing you to start your day.
Anterior Compartment of the Thigh
Just as the two muscles that make up the iliopsoas are joining by a tissue sheath, so too are the two muscles that make up the anterior compartment of the thigh.
The rectus femoris, which is also one of the four heads of the quadriceps, doubles a weak hip flexor. Its relative ineffectiveness as a hip flexor is a direct result of its large role in providing extension of the knee. Whenever it has to be acted upon to extend the knee in any way, it is unable to work simultaneously as a hip flexor.
The sartorius, the other half of the anterior compartment, can weakly flex the hips as well—along with the ability to provide rotation about the hip and move the hips from side to side. These effects, however, are limited for the same reason as the rectus femoris.
While the rectus femoris doubles as a knee extender, the sartorius works to flex the knee. While doing so, it cannot work to provide any hip movements. Together the two weak hip flexors of the anterior compartment do what they can when they can to provide movement along the hips.
Medial Compartment of the Thigh
These four sheathed muscles work together to adduct the hip. An adduction, in terms of hip movement, is the ability to turn the hips inside to the midline of the body.
The pectineus, adductor longis, adductor brevis, and gracilis work as separate but equal strings of a harp to provide you with the motions necessary to carry out several crucial movements.
For the same reason that the anterior compartment of muscles is limited in hip flexion, so too are the members of the medial or midline compartments.
These muscles have even less of a control of hip flexion due to most of its components serving several other functions.
These overachieving muscles must spread out their workload tremendously, and it is for this reason that the medial compartment is the least efficient of all the hip flexors.
Tensor Fasciae Latae
This thigh muscle is, on it own, free from neighboring muscles to help aid it in hip flexion. The tensor fasciae latae works to help the other flexor muscles stay balanced and works to increase stabilization of the pelvis while standing up or walking. It may be alone in its efforts in hip flexion, but it has some muscle friends to help it with its major job of extending the hips.
What is a Strain Exactly?
A strain is a tear of varying degrees of the tendons that connect muscles to its anchoring bones or the muscles themselves. The three degrees are as follows:
- First Degree: a mild strain involves a very limited amount of torn muscle fibers that usually keeps all range of motion virtually intact. Mild pain and tenderness can occur as a result and the few fibers that are torn are usually able to heal on their own by limiting forceful motions such as running.
- Second Degree: a moderate strain where enough of the muscle tears to result in limited range of motion. It is not yet a complete tear but can advance to this state if not given adequate time to heal. Swelling should be noticeable at the site of the injury.
- Third Degree: a complete tear of the muscle and accompanying tendons that will be extremely painful at the time of injury, but the pain usually goes away completely shortly after.
Complete abstinence of rigorous movements is a must to allow the body to heal itself.
Physical therapy is usually recommended once the muscle or tendons are strong enough to carry on physical activity.
With a complete tear, it is highly recommended that you visit your doctor to ensure that neighboring bodies such as ligaments are still intact and do not require surgery.
Treatment of Hip Flexor Strain
While it is always a good idea to consult your medical provider of any injury, he or she will most likely act as a guide in helping you regain full mobility through self treatment. This treatment regime will begin with the RICE method, an acronym of four steps to help you regain your muscle health.
- R is for rest. The immediate thing you should do upon injury to a muscle or tendon is to rest it. Although easier said than done, walking as little as possible is a great way to accomplish this. When you can, take as many breaks through the day as possible where you are completely still. While sitting down will help, the more you can lay flat on your back, the better.
- I is for ice. Apply ice to the affected area up to 8 times a day at intervals of 30 minutes. Ice will reduce swelling and it also works to isolate your blood flow through constriction of blood vessels. This constricting will help keep all of the healing factors of your blood in the area. There is too much of a good thing in the part of treatment, however, as leaving the ice on for too long can do damage to your blood vessels. Luckily, the next step can be used more regularly.
- C is for compression and entails using a sleeve to wrap it around the hip area. This will help direct more and more white blood cells to the affected area so they can work their healing magic.
- E is for elevation. Using pillows or some other sort of support to put under your lower back will elevate your hips. Use enough padding to ensure that your hips are higher than your heart. This will help increase blood flow to the area and really kick the healing process into high gear.
Key Takeaways About Relieving a Hip Flexor Strain
The hip flexors are a series of 9 muscles in the area that work to flex your hips. Injuries to this area can be extremely painful, but will usually not require surgery to be corrected.
Using the RICE method of self treatment followed by a physical therapy regimen can help you heal more quickly and strengthen the area to decrease the likelihood of a hip flexor strain from happening again.