Let’s face it, life can be stressful at times. Things are great one minute, and everything’s upside down the next. Too much stress creates chaos in the body and does a solid number on your muscles. “Your muscles tighten as a result of stress and trauma, which can cause inflammation in the surrounding soft tissues,” says Amelia Bartolino, RD, NDTR and certified personal trainer at Unique Fitness.
Stress that rapidly dawns on the body causes your muscles to become tense and resist motion. This can cause aches, pain, soreness, and muscle stiffness—and chronic stress prolongs these issues, leading to musculoskeletal disorders if not treated. Usually, the muscles release tension once the stress passes, and the symptoms will likely improve.
But even if you’re feeling better, the effects of stress can still linger in the body and muscles, depending on the intensity. So it’s always a good practice to manage and balance your emotions for your overall health.
Muscle tension from stress is felt almost anywhere in the body. The hip muscles, in particular, can hold onto the harmful effects of anxiety and stress, making daily activities burdensome.
How do your hips store stress?
Lower body movement starts at the hips. The hip muscles assist with motion, flexibility, and stabilization and usually determine your range of motion. According to a study by the American Psychological Association, the body can hold onto emotions, mainly when they aren’t expressed.
What does this have to do with the hips? Emotions are energy in motion, and the hip area is associated with the sacral chakra, which houses your creative and reproductive energy. “Stress can manifest in the body, causing lower back and hip tension,” says Bartolino. It is also believed that you store stress, anxiety, and suppressed trauma in your hips if you don’t express and release them. This is a well-known phenomenon in the yoga community as well as in several cultures around the world.
Your adrenal glands, which produce cortisol and adrenaline, are also found above the hip area. If they are overworked and exhausted, that bodily stress can cause tension and pain in the lower body. It’s no coincidence that your body’s physical and emotional health are closely related; when one is unbalanced, the other is affected.
Interestingly, your body speaks to you in signs and symptoms, so aches, tension, and lack of mobility of the hip muscles are signs that they may be holding onto stress.
What does tension in the hips look like?
“Tension in the hips can cause immobility, pain in the hips and back, misalignment of the spine, and poor posture,” says Bartolino. “This can make everyday activities such as walking, bending, running, and standing upright a hassle,” she adds.
Tight hip muscles limit your range of motion and slow you down. The iliopsoas muscles are the main muscle groups of the hips that are highly affected by anxiety and stress. They connect your torso to your lower body and help you pull your knees toward your chest. When you are stressed, they contract, get stiff, and tense.
Signs of a tight hip include:
- Sharp hip pain, especially after standing up
- Unable to properly raise and lower your legs
- Poor and uneven posture
- Aches and soreness in the hip area
- Pain and soreness in the glutes
The importance of keeping the hips ‘open’
Your hip bones are joints, and they work like the hinges of a door. The door will only open and close properly if the joint is flexible. The same thing happens with your hips; mobility is limited with stiff, tense muscles. “It is important to keep hip flexors open and flexible to prevent injury and optimize mobility to make activities of daily living as easy as possible,” says Bartolino. As a result, your chances of injury and musculoskeletal disorders reduce, and your blood flow improves, which allows more oxygen into the muscles.
With an open hip, energy also passes freely. The muscles are more relaxed, and stress and anxiety are less likely to become trapped. Ever feel a sense of relief from a yoga or pilates class? This is because many of those practices are centered around flexibility and mobility and doing stretches to keep the body’s energy centers open—especially the hip.
Stretching is key
Stretching the lower body muscles is an excellent way to keep the hips open and resolve pain and discomfort. As a matter of fact, stretching the body, in general, is great for overall tension relief that allows the energy centers to be balanced, releasing tension. Many exercises can help keep the hips open and relieve stress. Bartolino shares the best combinations of stretches and movements you can do from the comfort of your home without a gym or fancy equipment.
Try these 6 exercises to release tension in the hips
Pigeon pose. “The Pigeon pose is a great hip opener stretch that supports mobility and flexibility in the hip flexors and lower back,” says Bartolino. You start with a downward dog stretch, then bring a leg into your chest and assume a sitting position. The extended leg stretches the hip flexors while the bent leg opens the hip. There are variations of this stretch depending on your fitness level to assist with comfort.
Frog pose. As the name states, this stretch resembles the position of a frog. You are on all fours as you “open your hips and stretch the inner thighs outwards” as far as possible. It can be challenging if your hips are extremely tight, but your flexibility and range of motion will improve over time. The frog pose strengthens the hips, groin muscles, and lower back.
Seated twist pose. The seated twist is a yoga pose that helps to relieve stored emotions and tension in the hips. Bartolino says it “aids with spinal mobility, improves back pain and circulation.” The twisting motion helps to stretch your upper body while your elbow on your upright outer thigh pulls on the muscles of the hip to release tension.
Happy baby pose. This relaxing, calming stretch helps to “open the muscles of your hips, inner thighs, and pelvic floor,” says Bartolino. You lie on your back with your legs bent upright at a 90-degree angle as you hold on to your toes and gently rock side to side—like a very happy baby.
Butterfly stretch. The butterfly stretch is a simple yet effective move that “targets the hip flexors, lower back, and glutes,” adds Bartolino. It also relieves tightness from stress, working out, or sitting for long periods. As you sit upright, you bend your knees and press the soles of your feet together, pulling them closer towards you with your hands for a good hip stretch.
Reclined cobbler pose. The cobbler pose is similar to the butterfly stretch but done in a reclined position. Your soles are touching each other, but your upper half is lying down. This move is “incredibly relaxing as it opens the hips and groin and stretches the thighs,” says Bartolino. The hip muscles can loosen up, relieving tension and discomfort.
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