Running with hip flexor pain isn’t fun. The hip flexors are very involved in the movement of running, and sometimes it’s not as simple as stretching stiff hip flexors while you run.
In fact, if you keep running through the pain instead of allowing it to heal, you may be doing more damage to the hip flexors.
So what are your options for keeping up your running practice when you develop pain? Ultimately, what you do is up to you, but in this article we’ll suggest some treatment options as well as some ways to prevent it from happening.
Keeping your hip flexors healthy may take a bit of effort in the beginning, but once it becomes a habit, you’ll find that you can run pain-free and enjoy every minute much more.
Here’s everything you should know about running with hip flexor pain.
What Are Hip Flexors?
The hip flexors are not a single thing. Rather, they’re a group of muscles and tendons at the front of the hip joint. This group connects your legs to your pelvis and helps you to move smoothly when walking or running.
When the group of muscles and tendons contract, they lift the thighs up and move them forward, and when they relax, they allow the thighs to come back downward.
The hip flexors are constantly working when you’re walking, running, jumping, or moving your legs in any way.
Can You Run With Hip Flexor Pain?
Running with hip flexor pain is not impossible, but continuing to push through the pain may lead to injury. It’s in your best interest to rest and take steps to treat the hip flexors so that you can run pain-free.
While it may be tempting to push through thinking that the hip flexors will loosen up as you go, it’s best to try and find out the cause of your hip flexor pain and treat it properly before you place more strain on the muscles and tendons.
Common Causes for Hip Flexor Pain While Running
Overuse is the most common cause of hip flexor pain while running. The repetitive motion of running or other exercises that involve the hip flexors can cause the muscles, tendons, and ligaments to become inflamed and painful.
If you have weak muscles in the hip area or lower back, you may be at higher risk of developing hip flexor pain while running.
You may also feel pain if those muscles are stiff from lack of movement, for example, if you work seated at a desk all day.
If you have recently increased your mileage or your speed in your training sessions, the muscles surrounding the hip may be overworked, leading to pain.
Hip flexor pain can also be caused by wearing running shoes with too little or the wrong type of support. This causes the foot to be misaligned, which can lead to every joint above it in the kinetic chain to be misaligned as well, leading to pain.
Choose your running shoes carefully so you’re always properly supported.
Injuries Related to Hip Flexor Pain
Hip flexor pain may be simply a result of overuse, but it can be a sign of something else. If your pain is ongoing and gets worse or doesn’t go away when you rest, you may want to consider visiting the doctor to find out what’s behind it.
Apart from an overuse injury, your hip flexor pain may be a symptom of:
- A groin strain
- IT band syndrome
- Osteoarthritis in the hip
- A stress fracture
Treatment for Hip Flexor Pain
One of the best things you can do for hip pain is to rest the muscles and joints. Even a light activity like walking can place strain on the hip, so you should stop all unnecessary activity to allow the hip time to heal.
You should not continue with your exercise until you can go through a full day pain-free. You will need to ease yourself back into exercise slowly.
Stretching can help to loosen up tight muscles, relieve pain, and increase flexibility. We recommend dynamic stretching every day to keep your muscles loose and comfortable—not just the hip, we recommend full-body stretching.
Stretching should be the biggest part of both your warm-up and cool-down. Even if you’re not exercising, you should be doing gentle stretching every day.
If the pain is interfering with everyday life, even when you’re not engaging in exercise, you can take over-the-counter (OTC) anti-inflammatories like Ibuprofen.
Anti-inflammatories will help to reduce inflammation in the hip flexor, as well as in muscles nearby that may be causing the pain.
Your doctor may recommend corticosteroid injections to relieve pain and inflammation if OTC medication doesn’t work. We only recommend this if you’ve already tried OTC medication and had no success.
Surgery is usually a last resort and depends on the underlying cause behind the hip pain. Many conditions like tendonitis or bursitis can be treated without the need for surgery, but in the case of a stress fracture, surgery may be required.
When to Return to Running?
Resting your hip for a long enough time to heal is essential. However, you will be able to return to running when:
- You can bend and straighten the hip joint without any pain
- There’s no swelling in the hip area
- Your full range of motion has returned
- You can jog lightly without limping
- You can jump on both legs without feeling pain
These signs indicate that you can begin to ease yourself back into running. You will need to start slowly and build up until you’re back at the level you were before your hip pain.
Starting too intensely can place strain on your newly-healed hip and cause more damage.
If you find that a certain exercise or run is too easy, increase by 10 percent the next time. For example, if running one mile is too easy, run 1.1 miles next time. If that’s still too easy, increase it to 1.21 miles for your next run, and so on.
Whether you’ve had to heal from hip pain and don’t want it to recur, or you just want to avoid it from the start, these are the steps you should be taking to prevent hip flexor pain from occurring.
Good Pair of Shoes
You should be wearing shoes that support your feet and gently align them so the joint is in the right position. When your foot and ankle joints are aligned, the knee joints and hip joints automatically align too, relieving excess strain.
Choosing a pair of the best shoes for hip pain is a good start for preventing hip flexor problems.
Your shoes should also have adequate cushioning to absorb shock so that your joints don’t get jarred during impact.
If you already have a good pair of shoes but they just don’t offer enough support, you can insert an insole that offers more support.
You can buy OTC inserts or have custom orthotics made that are molded directly from your feet. However, custom inserts can be expensive, but they’re designed specifically for your feet.
Stop Immediately When Feeling Pain
Whether you’re exercising or just walking, when you feel pain, stop what you’re doing. Continuing to do the activity that’s causing the pain could lead to further damage.
If you can’t stop at the time, we advise slowing down for the remainder of your walk. This should reduce the chance of being injured worse than you already are.
Increase Mileage Slowly
To avoid developing an overuse injury, you should always increase your mileage or time slowly when training. You should increase by 5 to 10 percent per week, to give your body time to ease into the new level of activity.
Failing to do so could overload the hip flexors and lead to injury, which will keep presenting with pain if not allowed the time to heal.
We recommend dynamic stretching every day to keep your muscles, tendons, and ligaments loose and pain-free.
Even if you have already stretched for the day, you should also stretch before doing any type of exercise.
Make sure you’re doing appropriate stretches for the activity you’re about to do—for example, stretch your pectoral muscles if you are doing bench press—but don’t forget to stretch your hip flexors regardless of what exercise you’re doing.
Strengthen Your Hip Flexor, Glutes, and Core Muscles
Building strength in these muscle groups can help to reduce hip flexor pain by lowering the chance of developing an injury.
You should incorporate hip flexor strengthening exercises—squats, lunges, glute bridge, etc—as well as core exercise, at least 2 to 3 times a week with at least one day of rest in between.
After a few weeks, you should start to feel the difference in your hip flexors when running and doing the exercises.
Improve Your Mobility
Reduced mobility can lead to pain in the hip flexors. Stretching will help to improve your flexibility and your range of motion, which in turn lowers your chance of being injured and developing pain in the area.
If you want to work more on your flexibility, you can start incorporating yoga into your training routine as well as stretching and strength training.
Review Your Running Form
You should review your running form on a regular basis. Not only will this improve your performance, but it will also lower your chance of developing injuries or overusing muscles that could lead to pain.
If you have a coach, they should be checking your form and advising you on how to improve it. If not, you can film yourself and slow it down to spot problems with your form.
Then you should incorporate running form drills into your training in order to improve your form.
Cool Down After Running
Cooling down is often neglected; however, it’s a part of your recovery process that you should be using to your advantage.
Spend ⅕ to 1 mile at the end of your run jogging slowly. Then, stop and stretch. Don’t forget to include your hip flexor stretches here!
Once you’re home and you’ve showered and are resting, you can use a foam roller to ease out any tension in the muscles that may stiffen up later and contribute to pain.
Note, that foam rolling cold muscles could lead to increased irritation if you begin with too much pressure. Be sure to start out with slow, moderate pressure to warm your stiff areas up and relieve tension.