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Stretch Your Hip Flexors
The Equestrian Mechanic
The main hip flexor muscle group is the Iliopsoas muscle. Part of it originates on the front side of the lower spine and the other part comes from the inside of the pelvic bones. These muscles combine and attach on the inside of the thigh. The muscles main action is to flex the hip, bringing the knee closer to the stomach and rotate the leg outward. This muscle gets shortened in the typical riding position, where the hip is flexed and outwardly rotated. Shortening of the Iliopsoas, overtime will cause changes in the riders walking mechanics, strain on the lower back, and alterations in posture and changes in the mechanics of the hips. This can be easily observed in the walking pattern of experienced riders. They tend to develop a shortened stride length, with their feet turned slightly out. Some of the consequences of this are an excessive strain on the front of the lower spine. There is connective tissue on the front of the spine, which has pain fibers that transmit non-specific pain information to the brain. When there is excessive tugging on this tissue during walking or everyday activities it shows up as nagging, achy lower back pain. This is commonly incorrectly treated with care given to the back musculature. This also shows up as non-specific knee pain and stiffness.
Because of the forces applied to the hip and leg by the shortened Iliopsoas muscles, the knee is not able to go through the rotation and translation necessary to proper knee mechanics during walking or squatting activities. This muscle also affects proper up-right posture. If shortened there is a forward rotation force put on the pelvis and lower back creating an arching effect in the lower spine. This will ultimately cause other poor postural alterations in the upper back and neck as well as affecting the positioning of the shoulders. Often times upper back and neck problems are treated without consideration of this muscles potential role and the problems keep recurring despite care given to those areas. Shortening of the Iliopsoas also changes the way the foot strikes the ground and the way it pushes off during walking. This can lead to strain on the tissues of the arch and the back of the ankle as well and the forces going into the front of the foot. This is often over looked in the treatment of foot pain.
Keeping Good Flexibility
Here is a simple way of keeping good flexibility in the hip flexors. It is key that this muscle is stretched everyday to have maximum benefit even if you arent riding that day. Stand near something to hold onto if you need it for balance. Stand with your feet shoulder with apart. Turn your right foot in slightly, and then take a large step forward with your left foot. Bend your left knee and keep your torso and upper body straight, so it stays 90 deg. to the floor. Try to keep you right knee locked, now draw your lower stomach muscles in. Keeping your torso straight, (no arching backwards or leaning forwards) tip your upper body to the left slightly and lift your right arm over your head. You should begin to feel a pull in the right front of you hip and thigh. To increase the stretch dont arch you back, simply squat a little deeper with your left leg. This should stretch the right Iliopsoas group. In the final stretch position you should be in a lunge, tipped toward the side of the leg that is in front, while holding your stomach muscles in. Hold the stretch for about 30 seconds and do each side 2-3 times per day. After doing this stretch for about 2-3 weeks daily, if there is no noticeable improvement consult your chiropractor, sports medicine physician or physical therapist for further evaluation and treatment recommendations.
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