Do you experience sudden, sharp pain or a pulling sensation in the front of your hip? If you experience pain, weakness, or tenderness when you walk or climb stairs, you may be dealing with a hip flexor strain, a common condition in athletes and older adults. Hip flexor strains lead to pain, inflammation, and reduced flexibility and mobility. Keep reading to learn more about hip flexor strain, from causes to treatment options.
A hip flexor strain is simply a stretch or tear in one or more of the hip flexor muscles, which leads to pain in the front of the hip or the groin. Hip flexor tendonitis is a different but related condition, which also leads to hip pain. However, in the case of hip flexor tendonitis, the tendon that attaches muscles to the upper thigh bone is damaged or inflamed.
So, what is a hip flexor? The hip flexor carries out a very important role: It allows the hip joint to remain flexible and stable. The hip flexor is comprised of several muscles in the hip, inner thigh, and pelvis that work together to help you to lift your thigh toward your stomach and to bend at the waist. Therefore, any injury to the hip flexor can make running, walking, climbing stairs, or kicking a ball difficult.
Grades of Hip Flexor Strain
Not all hip flexor strains are equal—they vary in severity from grade 1 to grade 3. These grades take into account muscle damage, pain levels, and functionality. The injury’s grade indicates the required level of treatment and expected recovery time.
Hip Flexor Strain Grade 1
Damage to a small number of muscle fibers, which causes some pain, but allows full hip functionality
Hip Flexor Strain Grade 2
Moderate loss of functionality and moderate pain due to a significant number of torn fibers
Hip Flexor Strain Grade 3
Major loss of functionality and severe pain due to damage to all the muscle fibers
Causes and Risk Factors for Hip Strain
Hip flexor strain is most common in athletes who continuously sprint, kick, or raise their legs. Cyclists, soccer players, runners, hockey players, and those who practice martial arts often find themselves with pulled hip muscles. However, anyone can strain their hip flexor from overuse or sudden movement.
Other factors that can cause hip strain:
Weak leg, hip, or glute muscles
Tight leg, hip, or glute muscles
Stiff joints in the hip, knee, or lower back
Inadequate warmup before activities
Improper form during exercise or other activities
Hyperextended hip—the hip is moved beyond its normal extension range
Trauma or falls
Low level of fitness, strength, or flexibility
Previous hip flexor injury that did not heal properly
Symptoms: Where is Hip Flexor Pain Felt?
The pain associated with hip flexor strain is quite specific. You may notice:
Front hip pain, where the hip meets the thigh
Hip flexor pain when walking
Sudden, sharp pain in the hip flexor at the time of injury
Pulling sensation in the front of the hip or in the groin
Tenderness upon touching the area around the hip flexor
Swelling or inflammation
A limp while walking
Pain when lifting the knee toward the chest, during activities, or while climbing stairs
A visible muscle deformity, in cases of severe tears
How is Hip Flexor Strain Diagnosed?
While you may have an idea that you’re suffering from a pulled hip flexor, a professional diagnosis is always recommended.
Your doctor or physiotherapist will perform a physical exam to check for pain, swelling, or muscle deformities. If necessary, imaging techniques—such as X-rays, ultrasounds, CT scans, or MRI scans—may be used to confirm the diagnosis.
Treatment for Hip Flexor Strain
Hip flexor strain and pain can be treated by a variety of methods, ranging from self-administered therapies to torn hip flexor surgery for more serious cases. Here are a few common treatment options for hip flexor strain.
Pain Relief & Healing
The RICE protocol is one of the most widely used and effective treatments for all kinds of injuries and inflammatory-based ailments. RICE is most effective when used within the first 72 hours following hip flexor strain, although it can provide relief and encourage healing at all stages.
Rest: Resting your hip and leg allows the body time to heal itself. If you put too much strain on the hip flexor following injury, you may cause further damage and contribute to swelling and inflammation.
Ice: Apply an ice pack for fifteen minutes every four hours (or as needed) to reduce pain and inflammation. Wrap the ice in a thin towel or sheet to prevent burning your skin.
Compression: A compression bandage reduces swelling and pain and helps prevent further injury.
Elevation: Usually, it is recommended that you raise the injured body part above the heart in order to restrict blood flow and reduce inflammation. This can be more than a little tricky when it comes to the hip! Instead, try to position yourself so your hip is not the lowest part of your body.
Avoid exercises that increase pain or put stress on the hip flexors. Engaging in your usual exercise routine too soon can result in further damage and perhaps even a chronic hip flexor problem.
Why not give swimming a go? This gentle, whole-body workout won’t aggravate hip flexor strain, but you’ll still enjoy the physical and mental benefits of exercise.
Seated exercise is another fantastic option. Try seated yoga or even chair cardio.
Alternating the application of heat and ice is known as contrast therapy. This technique is a fantastic way to boost circulation, quell pain and inflammation, and increase the flow of oxygen and nutrients to damaged tissue.
You can perform contrast therapy in your own home, and it is a low-risk treatment for hip flexor strain. Simply alternate one minute of ice-pack application with three minutes of heat for ten to fifteen minutes total, beginning and ending with ice. Repeat once or twice a day as needed.
Note: Avoid contrast therapy within the first 72 hours following hip flexor strain. Opt for ice treatment only.
If you have hip flexor strain, your physiotherapist may recommend dry needling. Also known as intramuscular stimulation, this therapy uses acupuncture needles or other needles to treat muscle pain.
Dry needling is believed to work by creating “movement” in the muscles, increasing circulation, and reducing tightness and pain. You may experience some soreness following this treatment, similar to the pain felt after an intense workout.
Massage roller balls help pinpoint muscle knots, relieving pain and stiffness associated with hip flexor strain. ( See Product)
Soft tissue massage is an effective way to treat hip flexor pain. It stretches out tight muscles and increases oxygen flow to damaged tissues. Massage also encourages the removal of waste products from around the muscles, which aids healing.
Your physiotherapist can perform soft tissue massage to improve hip flexor strain, but you can also try at-home techniques.
Place a lacrosse or tennis ball slightly under the hip bone to work out the hip flexor. Also, consider getting yourself a foam roller. They're a cheap and easy way to massage your hip flexors at home.
Avoid massage in any form during the first few days following injury, as it can increase inflammation.
Stretches & Hip Flexor Strain Exercises
A program of stretches and exercises will help you build strength, mobility, and flexibility. Always work with a qualified physical therapist to avoid damaging the weakened muscles.
In the early stages of recovery, the following gentle exercises may be helpful. Click on the exercise name to watch a video of the exercise being performed.
Lying Hip Flexor Stretches
These two floor-based stretches help relieve pain and release the strain of a hip flexor.
Pelvic Tilt with Marching
In this floor exercise, you alternate lifting your legs off the floor before holding and lowering.
Chair-Assisted Hip Flexor Exercise
This chair-based exercise stretches and strengthens the hip flexor as you gently raise and lower your knees.
Once you’ve improved the flexibility in your hip, you may be advised to move on to more challenging exercises:
The Yoga Bridge
This floor exercise helps improve flexibility and strength in the hip flexors, hamstring, glutes, chest, and shoulders.
Using resistance bands, these three standing exercises improve flexibility and strength against resistance, returning a full range of motion to the hip and groin area.
Always inform your doctor or physical therapist if you experience pain, swelling, or other adverse effects during or following exercises.
Supporting a Hip Flexor Injury
Taping techniques can be used to tackle swelling and pain post-injury, to support and stabilize muscles throughout the healing process, and to increase strength and functionality.
In addition, correct hip-taping techniques reduce the likelihood of re-injury once you return to your normal activities.
Be sure to discuss taping techniques with your physiotherapist, who can show you how to do it correctly.
Brace for Hip Flexor Support
A brace gently compresses your muscles and keeps your hip in proper alignment, which is crucial to the healing process. ( See Product)
A brace, a type of orthotic device, relieves pain caused by groin and hip strains. Braces also help your body maintain a neutral position, which speeds healing. They use compression to gently support the hip flexor, groin, and thigh while boosting circulation to the area.
Braces can be worn on an ongoing basis following recovery to prevent re-injury during workouts.
Hip and groin braces can be purchased over-the-counter or online. Always choose one that is washable, adjustable to your specific needs, and made from a breathable fabric.
Using crutches may be advisable in cases of severe strain. They take the weight off the hip and groin area, providing much-needed R&R for the damaged tissues.
In less severe cases, try a walking stick to reduce strain on your hip and make walking easier.
Severe hip flexor strains and pain may benefit from anti-inflammatory medication.
Aspirin and ibuprofen are over-the-counter anti-inflammatories that can relieve symptoms. However, discuss these medications with your doctor before taking them, as they can lead to gastrointestinal irritation or stomach bleeding, with risks increasing with age.
Outlook and Recovery Time for a Strained Hip Flexor
Recovery time from hip flexor strain varies from person to person. It will depend on the severity of the strain, your general health and fitness, and lifestyle factors.
Most cases of strained hip flexor heal with the use of at-home and minimally invasive treatments. Minor tears usually heal within two to three weeks, while more serious tears can take four to eight weeks. Severe strains may require even longer recovery times.
The more quickly you respond to your torn hip flexor, the better your chances of a speedy recovery. Be sure to use the RICE protocol immediately following the onset of hip flexor strain symptoms, and consult your doctor or physiotherapist, who can help you formulate a treatment plan that’s right for you.
How to Prevent Hip Flexor Strain
Preventing hip flexor strain is easy once you know how! Here are 5 of our top tips.
1. Always Stretch
Forgetting (or not bothering!) to stretch before activities is one of the main causes of activity related injuries. By stretching daily, you’ll improve your flexibility and mobility and reduce stiffness—all of which help prevent hip flexor strain.
Many of the rehabilitation exercises listed above can also be used as warmup exercises for your hip flexors. But speak with your physical therapist or fitness expert if you have any questions.
2. Be Supportive: Choose Taping and Braces
Support your hips, groin, and legs with taping techniques or braces.
These can be used during most activities to maintain the body’s alignment and reduce the risk of relapse or further injury to the hip flexor.
3. Switch Up Your Workouts
Exercises that involve kicking, raised legs, or sprinting motions all increase your risk of hip flexor strain.
Even if these are part of your favorite workouts, consider alternating your routine and scheduling in some days of low-impact exercises, such swimming,yoga, and elliptical machines.
4. Balance It Out
The body isn’t made up of isolated parts working alone—each and every part engages the help of another to carry out its duties. A weakness in one area means others have to pick up the slack and risk being injured—a state known as muscle imbalance.
In addition, maintain proper posture while resting, and use the correct form while exercising, which will contribute to overall bodily balance.
5. Schedule Rest Days
Give your hips a break between workouts with recovery days. If you do sustain an injury to the hip or to another body part, take adequate time to rest before returning to activities to avoid re-injury or additional damage.
Protecting Against Hip Flexor Strain
When it comes to the hips, careful consideration is always required! The hip is one of the most important joints in the whole body, bearing our weight during all our activities.
So if you want to be able to salsa the night away, enjoy long sunset cycles with your loved ones, or fulfil your dream of climbing to the top of the Eiffel Tower, you’ll need your hips to be fully functional. Give them ample resting periods, stretch out your hip flexor muscles, and consider supportive braces or taping techniques during activity.
Finally, if you think you have hip flexor strain, take action immediately and talk to your doctor about what you can do next.
Ear thermometers are ideal for those who need to accurately catch changes in body temperature at the earliest stage, allowing them to act fast to prevent illness or the progression of health conditions. Here are our top picks for the best ear thermometers on the market.
If you have carpal tunnel, a wrist brace will relieve the pain in your wrists, fingers, and hands. The best carpal tunnel brace will also support and stabilize the wrist. With a variety of braces available, including ones for daytime and nighttime use, it'll be easy to find the perfect brace to ease your pain. Stop struggling with carpal tunnel symptoms! We’ve selected several amazing braces that will get you the relief you deserve—fast!
The best knee brace for basketball is designed specifically for physical activities. No matter the cause, knee pain doesn’t have to stop you from exercising or joining in on a game. Check out our list of the best knee supports for basketball so you can play the game you love.