The hip is probably the most complicated joint in the entire body, rivaled only by the shoulder. It is also one of the joints that most people have a complaint about, i.e. tight hamstrings, a throbbing sensation in the joint, or lack of range of motion in the hip flexors. The hip, or acetabulofemoral joint, is a hard one to keep in check and requires constant t.l.c. to stay functioning at it’s best. The key, is listening to your body, staying in touch with range of motion, and including other modalities such as massage, ice, or strength training when needed.
It’s important to understand, every muscle group in the body has an opposite group working against it to maintain balance. The hamstrings and hip flexors are each other’s opposite. If your hip flexors are shortened, your hamstrings are going to be weak and overstretched. If your hamstrings are shortened, your hip flexors are going to be overstretched. Both situations lead to a pelvic tilt, which we all know from our local yoga teacher, that we want to maintain a neutral pelvis.
The absolute most common thing I see in yoga and as a massage therapist, is “tight” hamstrings. Often students are unable to put their heels down in downward facing dog without that muscle ripping in half feeling. The common mistake however, is that you should stretch your hamstrings to correct this problem. Nine times out of ten, what is actually going on, is those hamstrings are overstretched and weak. This is caused by tight hip flexors and an anterior tilt in the pelvis. The sensation of overstretched muscle tissue is very similar to that of “tight,” or shortened, muscle tissue. What you really need is to include postures that strengthen your hamstrings, like Salabhasana (Locust) and Virabhadrasana (Warrior) III.
Determining whether your hamstrings are actually tight, or overstretched can be a little tricky, but is possible with range of motion testing. Coming into Anjaneyasana (Low Lunge, see picture below), making sure your front knee is in alignment with the ankle below it, check in with your hip flexor on the outstretched leg. Notice if your range of motion here is poor, if it’s painful for you to deepen that stretch, and practically impossible for you to add a backbend. If that is the case, you may want to add some strengthening to your hamstrings, and stretching to your hip flexors.
I encourage you to bring some awareness to these two muscles groups, and listen to your body. Test your range of motion, and pay attention to the sensations that occur. Strengthen and stretch in conjunction with each other, and you will be on your way to a more balanced, healthy, hip.