By Chanelle Smith, IFBB pro
Why do my knees hurt?
Knee pain, along with back pain, is one of the most common types of chronic pain faced by adults.
Why is that?
Well, because there are tons of things that can cause it, including injuries, inflammation, and tightness of adjacent areas like the hip flexors and IT bands.
If you haven’t been injured and don’t have arthritis (chronic joint inflammation and stiffness) but your knee is still bugging you, your hips are probably too tight.
If you sit a lot during the day, it’s especially likely that your hips are the problem.
Think about it this way: when you’re standing, your hip flexors are in an extended position.
When you’re sitting, they’re in a shortened, inactive position.
If you remain in that same seated position daily for hours at a time, your hip flexors and the surrounding muscles can get “frozen” in that tight, shortened position.
Your body compensates for that tightness, which can manifest itself in a number of ways including pain in the knees.
How do I know if I have tight hips?
So besides potentially feeling knee pain, how do you know if your hips are tight?
One telltale sign is to pay attention to the direction in which your feet point when you walk or stand.
If your toes tend to turn outward, you may have some work to do on loosening up your hips.
You can also test for tight hips by laying down on your back and pulling your right knee toward you, leaving the left leg outstretched.
If the left outstretched leg pops up and can’t reach the ground as you’re pulling your right knee into your body, your hip flexors are tight. Make sure to test your left leg too!
Another test is to sit on the floor in a cross-legged position and pay attention to these signs:
Is it painful to sit in this position? If it is, your hips are tight.
Are my knees within 6 inches of the floor? If not, your hips are tight. Tight hips pull the knees closer to the body.
Is my lower back rounded? If yes, your hips are tight. Your lower back is rounding to compensate for the lack of flexibility in the hips
How do I fix tight hips?
So you’ve used the diagnostics above and figured out that yep, you have tight hips.
Thankfully, knee pain caused by joint tightness isn’t permanent and can easily be addressed with patience and some mobility TLC like hip stretches.
We’re sharing four mobility moves that will loosen up your hips and combat some of that pesky knee pain holding you back from being your normal, active self!
The first move we recommend is:
The Fire Hydrant Hip Circle
Why are we calling it that? If you have a dog, you’ll know what we mean.
Fire hydrant hip circles are a great way to dynamically stretch your hip flexors – that is, to stretch them while moving.
(Most people are more familiar with static stretches, where you move a muscle to the end of its range of motion and hold it there.)
Fire hydrant hip circles
1. Start on the ground on your hands and knees
2. With knee still bent, lift your right leg out to the side so your thigh is parallel with the ground
3. Slowly move your hip in circles as large as possible
4. Complete 10 circles, then switch to left leg
5. Complete 3 sets of 10 circles per leg
For the next exercise, you’ll need a mobility tool of your choice – we recommend a foam roller or a mobility sphere with a diameter of around 5 inches.
You’ll be using the foam roller or sphere to roll along your inner thigh and loosen up tight spots and restrictions in the muscle tissue.
Inner thigh rolling
1. Lay face down on the ground, propped up on forearms
2. Bend your right knee and pin mobility tool (foam roller or sphere) between your inner thigh and the floor
3. Slowly roll along your inner thigh, pausing to focus on any sore spots you find
4. Repeat on left leg
If you didn’t feel silly doing the first two exercises, you will now!
Unlike the dynamic fire hydrant stretch, “the frog” is a static stretch.
It allows you to have full control over the depth of the stretch since you brace yourself with your arms.
1. Start on the ground on your elbows and knees
2. Carefully inch your knees wider and wider until you feel a deep stretch in your inner thighs
3. Hold the stretch until it becomes comfortable, then continue to widen your knees
4. Continue until you’ve been stretching for about 2 minutes total
5. Carefully move your knees back together and exit the stretch
We’ve saved the best for last!
The final exercise in the tight hips series is IT band rolling.
If doing this exercise feels pretty ouch-y, not to worry.
For most people this is an area that doesn’t get much attention when it comes to stretching and mobility.
There can be lots of adhesions and tightness that aren’t noticeable until you try to work on the area.
Remember that you can control the amount of pressure the mobility tool places on your IT band by holding more of your weight up with your arm and the leg you aren’t rolling.
It’s okay to start out slow!
IT band rolling
1. Lay on the ground on your right side, propped up on your right elbow. Left leg should be bent with foot planted in front of you.
2. Place mobility tool (foam roller or sphere) under your right leg
3. Slowly roll the tool along the length of your right leg, keeping it straight. Pause to focus on any sore spots you find.
4. Repeat on left side
The Pay Off
Rome wasn’t built in a day, and your hips can’t be loosened in one either.
Your best ally when it comes to mobility is consistency.
We recommend that you perform these mobility exercises and hip stretches at least twice a week.
Every time you use your foam roller or mobility sphere, you’ll start to notice you have fewer and fewer painful spots and your knee pain should begin to decrease.
If you can, try to spend less time sitting during the day.
Take breaks to walk, and activate your glutes by taking the stairs instead of the elevator since inactive glutes can also contribute to hip tightness.
More tips for including mobility in your day-to-day routine in this article.
May your hips be loose and your knees pain-free!