Unlock the Mystery of Your Hips: How Hip Muscles Impact your Ride

Do you struggle with lateral movements on the horse? Back pain or cramping hips? Your hip muscles could be to blame. Click to find out how an equestrian sport physical therapist can help you unlock the mystery of your hips and take your riding to the next level. 

Are you struggling with back pain? Aching knees? Equitation at the posting trot? Lateral movements? Surprisingly, improperly working hip and pelvic muscles could be to blame for these issues. 

Many athletes believe that they have a back or knee problem, when really the culprit is over compensating hip flexors and deactivated hip extensors. Sports physical therapy for equestrians can help you figure out if hip muscles are inhibiting your riding performance. 

What is a Hip Flexor?

Hip flexors are made up of a group of muscles at the front of the hip and thigh. These muscles bring your trunk and lower body closer together as well as stabilize the lumbar spine, such as sitting the trot. 

What are Hip Extensors?

The hip extensors are made up of a group of muscles at the back of the hip and thigh. These muscles are used to move the body upward and forward from a position of hip flexion, such as a rising trot. 

How Equestrians Use Hip Muscles 

As equestrians, we must be able to loosely drape our legs across our horse’s sides. We rely on our hips to create a relaxed leg and fluid seat. If our hips are too tight, this becomes nearly impossible. An independent, soft, fluid seat is one of the most sought after attributes of an exceptional horseback rider. A rigid seat can create back pain in your horse, inhibit movement, and limit performance. 

Hip flexors allow the hunter/jumper equestrian to gracefully fold into the two-point over the jump and then straighten on the other side. The process of going over a jump requires the hip flexors to straighten– fold– straighten, while also engaging the core to support your horse without relying on your hands. Tight hip flexors cause problems in the air and on either side of the fence, such as leaning forward and a lack of timely movement.

No matter the discipline, the posting trot requires hip flexors to be able to rapidly expand and contract in time with the horse’s movements. An exaggerated posting trot is essentially a squat– stand– squat motion. The body relies on the hip flexors to be able to complete each of these movements easily. 

Strong and mobile hip flexors are crucial to maintain control of the horse, move with your equine partner, and have correct equitation. Athlete physical therapy can help you develop your hip flexors. 

Causes of Hip Flexor Issues

You can strain or tear a hip flexor when performing a sudden fast movement. This could be anything from kicking a soccer ball to pushing yourself too hard while doing high knees to falling off your horse. Unfortunately, hip flexors strains and tears can be quite painful and require significant rest. 

A more common issue with hip flexors is tightness. The sedentary office lifestyle that most people lead directly contributes to hip flexor tightness. According to Time Magazine, one in four American adults sits for more than 8 hours a day. During these 8 hours, your hip flexors are locked in one short position. If they go unstretched, the muscles can impact the position of the pelvis, leading to back pain and a lack of flexibility. 

Symptoms of Tight Hip Flexors

If you have tight hip flexors, you may notice significant lower back pain, particularly after sitting for some time. Tight and unhealthy hip flexors can cramp when stretched, particularly when lying down overnight, as the muscle has to extend, when it is used to being contracted. Over time, tightness in the hip flexors can become a strain or tear, leading to potentially extensive rehabilitation.

As one of the largest joints, tight and immobile hips create a chain reaction that spreads throughout our body. A wide variety of symptoms could be related to an issue in the hip joint. For example, don’t discount tight hip flexors even if you’re struggling with something like neck pain. 

How to Unlock Your Hip Flexors

Unfortunately, many trainers and coaches believe that the solution to tight hip flexors is added mobility. This is not always true. Stability exercises can reposition your pelvis and lead to almost immediate relief of symptoms of tight hip flexors. Instead of focusing on just mobility, it’s important to combine mobility with stability. 

To unlock your hip flexors, focus on stretching, while engaging the core muscles to stabilize the pelvis. Stretches may include the butterfly stretch, kneeling lunge, and variations on the squat. While you can find these stretches online, keep in mind that anything you perform without an athlete physical therapy evaluation is generic and may not address your problem. If at any point in time, you feel pain while performing a stretch not prescribed by a Doctor of Physical Therapy, stop immediately and head to your local physical therapist’s office.

How a Physical Therapist Can Help

When your hips are tight, it causes a chain reaction within the body. You may notice aching in your knees, back pain, and difficulty doing everyday motions which you once performed with ease. Head to your physical therapist’s office to find the source of your pain. 

If it is tight hip flexors, or even a hip flexor strain, Dr. Emily can provide you with prescribed exercises and a full rider assessment to get you back on your horse faster. Unlock your hips– contact Dr. Shields today.