Opening up the back of the hips often helps the low back!
Many clients come into my Westport office for lower back pain. While this pain is often very complicated and differs with each client, studies have shown that tension in the back of the hips affects the low back region. Although the muscles in this area are literally the largest in the body, they are often overlooked in our daily stretching routines. That's a shame, because not only do we use these muscles with every single step and while standing, but we also pull on them while sitting, meaning they are under contractile force almost constantly.
In the next two posts, I'll explore the two most effective stretches to loosen the back of the hips. These particular stretches are even more effective performed in an assisted way, that is, during a massage therapy session at my office. The next time you come in, I'll be pleased to perform the stretches along with you. Most clients are amazed when the see what the combination of massage therapy and stretching does for flexibility!
The Gluteal muscles include Gluteus Maximus, Gluteus Medius, and Gluteus Minimus. As a group, these muscles attach from the sacrum and illium of the pelvis to the top of the femur. This means they are involved in the motions of walking, rotating the thigh, getting up from a squatting/sitting position and abducting (moving away) the thigh from the hip.
The stretch involves pulling the lower leg forward from the knee and ankle to try to touch the chest. It can be done either standing, sitting or even lying down on a soft surface, depending on your flexibility. If you're standing, it's perfectly acceptable to hold on to a wall or chair for balance.
Start by bending your leg in front of your body, with the lower leg perpendicular to the torso, bent 90 degrees at the knee. Gently hold underneath both the knee and ankle:
Pull both the knee and ankle evenly toward the chest. Your grip on the ankle should be relatively loose; the grip around the knee is more important in the stretch. Pulling that knee toward the chest is the critical part - start gently and breathe into it, pulling a little closer with each breath:
Don't bend down toward your leg; keep your spine very straight and support the stretch by pulling in with your abs. Repeat on both sides of the body. Ideally, you should be able to touch your knee to your chest. Of course, not everyone is that flexible, but regular massage therapy and stretching can help improve flexibility.
After a few good stretches, you should start to feel your range of motion increase, and hopefully that lower back will open up a bit. If you find your low back is still aching and tight, feel free to book a massage therapy appointment to loosen up that tension. I'll see you in my Westport office!
Who among us can't say that our shoulders are sore?
Nearly every client that comes into my Westport office for massage therapy has tight shoulders. There is some tension that only massage can help alleviate, but stretching this muscle, and awareness of it's movement, will help you immensely between office sessions. This is one of my favorite stretches to recommend to clients in my office, and I'm happy to share it with all of you!
The Trapezius (“Trap”) muscle attaches from roughly the base of the head, goes out to form what we refer to as “shoulders”, attaches to the top of the arm, moves in toward the shoulder blades, then down the spine. In this stretch, we take advantage of the attachment on the arm.
Begin by holding your ankle, as if you were going to stretch your Quad muscles.
Rather than pulling the ankle toward the back of your hip, you stretch the Trap by letting the weight of your ankle and leg pull down on your arm. Turn your neck and head to the opposite side to increase the stretch. Hold for at least 20 seconds, moving your head further if possible. Repeat on the other side.
This stretch works primarily by letting the leg pull down on the arm; if you tense your shoulder, it won't work. Let your shoulders drop as far to the ground as possible. Turning your head to the opposite side stretches the entire length of upper musculature – pay attention to any particularly tense spots up your neck. If you notice a tender area, you can turn your chin up toward the sky, even rotating it a bit to try to release the tension and increase range of motion.
Once you master this stretch, I guarantee you'll be doing it constantly! It's wonderful when you're having a stressful day, and before and after exercising.
This is probably one of my all-time favorites, so relax and enjoy! I'll see you in my Westport office!
The final challenge!
We've been building up to this challenging hip flexor stretch... Can you do it? :)
In the past few weeks, we explored the anatomy of the hip flexor muscles and two stretches to help alleviate lower back pain and increase range of motion around the pelvis. This week, the most challenging hip flexor stretch – I can't even do this one perfectly!
Hip Flexor Stretch #3
Some may recognize this as the pigeon pose in yoga; it's such a fantastic stretch that those of us not involved in a yoga practice can benefit greatly from it.
Begin by sitting on your knees on the floor. Move toward laying on the top of the right leg: Place your hands on the floor, and put the left leg in front of your body, laying the leg on the floor with the lower leg as perpendicular to your body as possible. (You may find that keeping the foot closer to your body, or even under your body will make the stretch easier. If that is the only initial flexibility your hips allow, modify the stretch accordingly.) Straighten the right leg and point the toes, if possible.
Settle into sitting on the left leg, and gently push off the right leg with your fingertips, stretching the front of the hip.
(Angled front view)
(Another angled front view)
You'll notice that this stretch concurrently works both the front of one hip and the back of the other. A little bonus. :) Breathe deeply, don't arch your back, and relax into the stretch. Repeat on the other leg.
You may begin to notice how related the front of the hip, back of the hip and low back truly are; it's difficult to affect one of these areas without affecting the others. When you come into my office for a massage therapy session, we'll address all of these areas to best alleviate pain from all angles. And you can watch me attempt this stretch! I'll see you in my Westport office!