I recently read an article which shed some light about tightness in the hip flexors (muscles that are at the front of the hip) in particular regards to pregnancy and the changes in posture that occurs.
The hip flexor muscles are responsible for flexing the hip – think of bringing your legs towards your trunk. Often pregnant women can complain of having excess tightness in their hip flexors and will spend lots of time stretching and foam rolling this area. Due to the growing baby, the abdominal muscles are stretched to accommodate this, and often the hip flexors are the backup system to create abdominal (core) and spinal stability. So now, we have the hip flexor muscles performing a secondary role that they wouldn’t do usually, even if they are not as effective at providing the stability needed like the abdominal muscles are.
So now that we understand the secondary role the hip flexors play especially in pregnancy as the abdominal muscles are stretched, it makes sense that overstretching and releasing the hip flexors can actually do more harm than good. The hip flexors are trying to keep your spine stable and help prevent injury and pain. There is another muscle nearby that can assist the hip flexors as it performs this secondary role – it’s called TFL or tensor fascia lata. This muscle group is also located at the front of the hips, around where your front pockets are and serve as an accessory muscle to aid with hip flexion.
Understanding all of this, we can now see we have two muscle groups that are tight, due to weakness and a change in length from the abdominal muscles due to pregnancy – all of which is aiming to increase core and spinal stability. So stretching these areas will only worsen the issue, and potentially cause injury and pain.
To address this, the answer is not in stretching tight painful muscles, but strengthening weakened muscles, as well as getting the whole core unit to work simultaneously together i.e. deep abdominal muscles, pelvic floor, diaphragm and spinal stabilisers. There are many exercises that are safe during pregnancy to perform which can re-establish the correct sequence of muscle activation during exercise, with the goal to prevent injury and pain. Speak to your exercise physiologist