You don’t have to be a hardcore sports fan to know that football is a very violent sport. Injuries to the knees, ankles and head are all too common for professional football players, and are often responsible for prematurely ending professional football careers. However, football players are occasionally sidelined by relatively uncommon injuries. During a September 2013 contest against the Cleveland Browns, Baltimore Ravens’ running back Ray Rice suffered a strained hip flexor, an injury that forced his early exit from the game.
Compared to other parts of the body, such as our vital organs and skeleton, the hip flexor gets little attention from most health-related publications. In fact, many people may not even know the hip flexor even exists. Despite this lack of publicity, the hip flexor is an essential cog within your body; whether you’re a professional athlete or office drone, it can be a challenge to move around normally with a hip flexor injury.
A Collection of Key Muscles
At first glance, it would seem that the term “hip flexor” would refer to only one specific muscle. In fact, the hip flexor consists of several different muscles, which work together to keep the hip joint flexible and stable. The names and purposes of these muscles are listed below:
Iliopsoas – The iliopsoas muscles is made up of two smaller components, known as the psoas muscle and the iliacus muscle.
Rectus Femoris and Sartorius – Both the rectus femoris and sartorius are located within the thigh. The former is tasked with lifting the lower leg, whereas the latter is used for a variety of purposes, such as flexing the knee joint and laterally rotating the hip. The sartorius is also used for moving the leg outward from the body, a movement known as hip abduction.
Tensor fasciae latae – The tensor fasciae latae muscles are positioned at the sides of the pelvis, and serve to stabilize the knee as it is extended.
Inner Thigh Muscles – The inner section of your thigh hosts a number of important muscles, including the adductor longus, adductor brevis, gracilis and pectineus. These muscles enable your legs to adduct, or move inward.
The hip flexor uses its many supporting parts to lift the thigh up to towards the abdomen. Though this might not seem like an impressive accomplishment, the body relies on the hip flexor to move around without pain and discomfort. Injuring the hip flexor can make it noticeably difficult for patients to run, jog or even walk.
Grading a Flexor Strain
When the hip flexor is hurt, there is a good chance that a strain is the culprit. A person sustains a strain when one or more of the body’s tendons are pulled, twisted or torn. Since tendons are used to connect bones to muscle, it is safe to say that strains can occur throughout the body, including in the hip flexor.
After reviewing a patient’s symptoms, doctors will often assign one of three grades to a hip flexor strains. Such a scale is often used for strains involving other tendons in the body. The most minor hip flexor strains fall into the grade I category, meaning that only a relative few number of fibers in the afflicted tendons are torn (fibers are the materials that largely from tendons). Consequentially, a patient will only experience mild pain and perhaps some swelling.
A grade II strain involves a greater number of torn fibers, and likewise a greater amount of swelling and pain. Grade II strains can also limit the functional abilities of the hip flexor. Grade III strains, which are the most severe type of strain to affect tendons, involve a complete tear of the tendon’s fibers. The patient loses much function in the damaged hip, making simple walking movements exceedingly difficult.
Whether a strain occurs in the ankle, wrist or hip, the treatment protocol assigned to patients generally remains the same. Tendon strains are generally treated with the RICE method, a series of easy-to-remember steps that are usually effective in treating most strains. The individual steps of the RICE approach require fairly little effort to memorize:
Rest – This is arguably the most obvious part of the RICE method. Simply put, a patient should avoid or strictly limit all activities that could further aggravate a strained hip flexor. This step is most important in the 24 to 48 hours following the injury.
Ice – Ice is not only useful for fighting pain, but it can also reduce swelling in the afflicted hip. In the 48 hours after sustaining the strain, try applying icepacks to the injury for 20 minutes at a time. Repeat this step every three to four hours.
Compression – Wrapping an elastic bandage around a strained hip helps many patients treat nagging swelling. When applying the bandage, make sure to overlap the bandage by one half of the bandage’s width (in other words, one half of the overlapping section should extend above the bandage, and be applied directly to the skin). Elastic bandages can do more harm than good if applied too tight. If you begin to feel numbness or tingling in your leg or foot, immediately remove the bandage and try again.
Elevate – Admittedly, it is hard to elevate your hips above your heart, which is what this step usually entails. Instead, it may be more practical to avoid sitting in such a way so that your hips are the lowest point of your body.
It bears mentioning that patients should seek the input of qualified medical professionals before starting any treatment regimens.
Building Up the Hip
Should you suffer a strained hip flexor, your doctor might recommend some rehabilitation exercises aimed at strengthening the hip’s many muscles. The exercises that often prove very effective in achieving this goal include hip flexor stretches, V-ups and standing hip flexor stretches.
Hip Flexor Stretch – This is a relatively easy exercise to perform, involving little more than kneeling on one knee. Begin by placing a folded towel or mat underneath the knee that will touch the ground. As you kneel forward, place one hand on the hip of the knee that is kneeling. Your other hand should be positioned atop the bent knee. This will help to keep your torso straight as you kneel. Hold this position for 30 seconds. You should feel the stretch in the kneeling knee.
V Up – V ups require a bit more practice than a basic hip flexor stretch, but their positive effect on the hips makes them well worth the effort. Start by lying flat on your back, with your arms resting on the ground above your head. Inhale as you steadily lift your legs and arms simultaneously. Lift both your arms and legs to the point that your body takes on a “V” shape. Exhale as you return to your starting position. Perform twenty V-ups if possible.
Standing Hip Flexor Stretch – This exercise is similar to hip flexor stretches, with one noticeable exception; instead of keeping your body planted firmly on the ground, a standing hip flexor is performed with one foot placed on elevated platform. With the foot of your front leg on an exercise bench (or another appropriate surface), lunge forward by slowly bending your front leg. Keep the back of your front leg straight as your hips move forward. Your torso should also remain upright and unbent. Switch to the opposite leg after retuning to your original position.