What can I do to loosen up my tight hip/ leg muscles?
July 22, 2012 7:54 AM   Subscribe

What can I do to loosen up my tight hip/ leg muscles? Part of the problem is that I don't know which of my muscles are tight, I just know that I can't move my right leg as much as my left.

For example, if I cross my legs like a guy (one foot on opposite knee), my left knee can rest at a 90 degree angle, while the right can't go lower than 45 degrees.

If I sit in butterfly position, the left leg can go lower.

If I raise my knee to my chest, my left leg can touch my chest, right leg cannot.

If I do side turns (flat on floor torso, legs bent slightly and turned together to the left or right), I cannot make my legs go flat on the floor when I turn to the right (unlike the left).

And if I am standing, legs apart, and shift my weight to one side, my right side hurts more. If feels like the area connecting my leg to my pelvis is tight.

So any suggestions as to 1)which muscles are causing these problems and 2)what I can do to improve my right leg flexibility?

posted by Sakura3210 to Health & Fitness (11 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
I can't tell you which muscles are the issue, but if you find yoga poses acceptable, googling 'yoga hip openers' will get you some ideas. Though they will include the things you have mentioned!
posted by kadia_a at 8:01 AM on July 22, 2012

In particular, the yoga pose I use to 'open up' my hips is called pigeon pose. It's a fairly intense position though, and I don't recommend you jump right into it. Make sure you're warmed/limbered up beforehand. For instance, I usually wait until after I'm done with my hour-long work-out before getting down to it, and it's usually the last of the stretches I do.

But golly, it feels incredible.
posted by carsonb at 8:24 AM on July 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

Hula hooping and belly dancing can both help loosen up muscles in that area.
posted by Vaike at 10:42 AM on July 22, 2012

Here's my favorite stretch ever. It's great for your hips/pelvis, lower back, and quads.

posted by kjell at 10:44 AM on July 22, 2012

the leg-crossing and butterfly tightness illustrate a limited lateral rotation (external rotation) with the leg abducted (out to the side) and flexed (that is, you are sitting with your hip bent at about 90 degrees). to improve this flexibility, it makes sense to stretch the muscles that are responsible for internal rotation; if they're tight, then external rotation will be difficult. your glutes and external hip rotators like the piriformis and groin/inner thigh muscles are probably tight. it would also be a good idea to give attention to your IT band (that link includes stretches). the above-mentioned pigeon is probably too extreme for you. try crossing your leg as you described above and simply leaning forward. or try a lying down "figure 4" glute stretch.

the side turns you describe also point to tight glutes, but they also involve your lower back; it could be tighter on one side than the other. spinal twists in your more challenging direction might help even things out.
posted by nevers at 10:56 AM on July 22, 2012 [3 favorites]

I'd nth yoga. Another muscle that I used to hear in yoga class not yet mentioned is the psoas muscle, which contributes to flexion and rotation in the hip joint and part of a group of muscles called hip flexors. The yoga studio that I went to used to give entire afternoon workshops on the psoas muscle (although I didn't attend any). But Yoga Journal is a good online source. You can go to their site and google both hip openers and psoas for further information and some detailed instructions for poses that might help you.
posted by kaybdc at 11:14 AM on July 22, 2012

Sounds like your piraformis might be tight. I'd start with the stretch that kjell linked to, and then also this stretch, and then work your way into the pigeon pose. Pigeon is awesome, but you need to go slowly and ease yourself into it.
posted by radioamy at 11:26 AM on July 22, 2012

Do you have a back problem? My father was bedridden with back problems when I was seventeen. Doctors measured his legs and found one leg was more than an inch shorter than the other. They prescribed (useless) exercises and ortholedic shoes, one with a very thick sole to make up for the diference in leg length.

I scoffed at the idea that he walked all over the planet with a heavy rucksack for twenty six and a half years in the infantry with one leg shorter than the other. I used some intensive gymnastics stretching techniques to rapidly get him back in normal range of motion, modified the exercises they prescribed, and then did massage for six months.

Ultimately, he threw out the orthopedic shoes because hiis legs stopped being different lengths. His long history of back problems never again left him bedridden, though this had occurred about every other winter for years. My father had dislocated his shoulder thirteen times while in the military. I eventually realized that was a primary source of his problems. I could massage the shoulder and a spot in his foot tingled.

So let me suggest that all tendon systems ultimately connect to the back. If you have a problem elsewhere, it could be impacting your leg flexibility. If leg stretches alone don't resolve this, consider working on your back.

Best of luck.
posted by Michele in California at 2:38 PM on July 22, 2012

Response by poster: I have had back problems; a decade ago I had surgery for scoliosis, and I do get back pain pretty often. Funnily enough, my right leg is slightly shorter than the left; I've never thought that it could be related to my muscle tightness. Good to know.
posted by Sakura3210 at 7:37 PM on July 22, 2012

The one exercise I specifically remember modifying for my father was to change straight leg situps to bent knee situps. Straight leg situps are very hard on the back and actually do less for your stomach muscles. My father could not do the straight leg ones. He could do the bent knee ones, even though most people find those to be harder.

My ex also had back problems. He was career military and also did martial arts. I know from him that strengthening the abdominals genuinely helps support the back and takes some pressure off of it. But you have to carefully choose exercises which isolate the abdominals, like crunches. Many abdominal exercises work back muscles as well, which can be a problem if you are trying to strengthen the abdomen to take some stress off the back.
posted by Michele in California at 8:51 PM on July 22, 2012

See a massage therapist!

"If feels like the area connecting my leg to my pelvis is tight." Hip flexors. In addition to the glutes and piriformis as previously mentioned, also have the therapist work on your iliopsoas and adductors.

Also, how do you sit? Please give your hip flexors a break by sitting back into a chair with good lumbar support (put a rolled-up towel between the small of your back and the chair if need be). Don't perch on the edge of your chair or use a chair with crappy back support.
posted by parrot_person at 9:04 PM on July 22, 2012

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