Anyone can suffer from a hip flexor injury, although they are most common in cyclists, dancers, soccer players, and martial artists. The hip flexors are a group of muscles that enable the hip joint to bend the knee toward the chest and make it possible to bend forward at the waist.1 Many activities, including kicking, running, and jumping, engage the hip flexors.
With overuse, overstretching, or sudden contraction, the hip flexor muscles may be injured, resulting in pain and limiting mobility.2 Knowing how to treat a hip flexor injury may help you reduce the amount of time it takes to recover.
What Is a Hip Flexor Injury?
A hip flexor injury may occur when one or more of the hip flexor muscles are torn. Although several muscles make up the hip flexor group, the psoas major and iliacus, together known as the iliopsoas, are the two that are most often injured. When a small number of fibers are torn, the injury is relatively minor and does not significantly impact function, although it may still be painful. If the muscle tears completely, the injury is much more severe and may result in a major loss of function in the leg.
What Causes a Hip Flexor Injury?
Overuse, weakness in the supporting muscles, muscle imbalances, and falls or overextension may injure the hip flexors. Prolonged sitting can also increase the risk of an injury, because it forces the hip flexor muscles to stay in a contracted position for long periods of time. This shortens the muscle, increasing the risk of injury. Regular stretching may help counteract the risk.3
What Are the Symptoms of a Hip Flexor Injury?
When one or more of the hip flexor muscles are torn, you typically feel pain in the front of the hip or in the groin area. You might also experience swelling, bruising, muscle spasms, tenderness, and difficulty executing normal range of motion. Hip flexor injuries often affect your gait and may make it difficult to walk without pain.4
How Long Does It Take to Recover from a Hip Flexor Injury?
Depending on the severity of the injury, it may take 1-6 weeks for a hip flexor injury to heal. Minor injuries typically require 1-3 weeks of recovery time, while more severe muscle tears can take 4-6 weeks or longer.5 Untreated severe injuries may take even longer or cause chronic pain.
What Helps a Hip Flexor Injury Heal?
After resting for a few days immediately after the injury, you may be able to employ some of the following treatment methods to help you recover as quickly as possible:
- Advanced exercises: Stretching the hip flexors, hamstrings, quadriceps, and calf muscles may help prevent future injury and loosen the tight muscles that contribute to hip flexor pain.6
- Physical therapy: In addition to progressive stretches, a physical therapist may provide appropriate strengthening exercises, massage, biomechanical correction, and other treatment methods to help you recover safely and avoid reinjury.
- Cold therapy: Using a cold therapy system may help reduce inflammation deep in the damaged tissues and relieve hip flexor pain.7
- Compression: Compression may help reduce swelling, potentially increasing mobility and reducing pain. Active compression may further help to reduce swelling.8
- Medication: Pain-relieving medications may temporarily help with pain. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen may also help with inflammation. Talk to a doctor before taking any new medication, especially if you have any underlying medical conditions. Don’t use medication to push through pain or do exercises that you can’t otherwise comfortably perform.9
- Common hip flexor injuries and treatments. Beacon Orthopaedics & Sports Medicine. https://www.beaconortho.com/blog/common-hip-flexor-injuries-and-treatments/. Published September 10, 2018.
- Cadman B. All you need to know about hip flexor strain Medical News Today. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/320655.php. Published January 19, 2018.
- What is a hip flexor tear or strain?. Mercy Health. https://www.mercy.com/health-care-services/orthopedics-sports-medicine-spine/specialties/hip/conditions/hip-flexor-tear-strain. Accessed April 9, 2019.
- Nall R. Understanding hip flexor strain. Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/health/hip-flexor-strain. Published July 5, 2017.
- Hip flexor strain. Summit Medical Group. https://www.summitmedicalgroup.com/library/adult_health/sma_iliopsoas_tendonitis/. Accessed April 9, 2019..
- Page P. Current concepts in muscle stretching for exercise and rehabilitation. International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy. 2012;7(1):109-119. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3273886/.
- Gotter A. Treating pain with heat and cold. Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/health/chronic-pain/treating-pain-with-heat-and-cold. Published February 2, 2017.
- Rest, ice, compression, and elevation (RICE). Michigan Medicine. https://www.uofmhealth.org/health-library/tw4354spec. Accessed April 9, 2019.
- Hip flexor tendinopathy. Intermountain Healthcare. https://intermountainhealthcare.org/services/orthopedics/services/hip/hip-flexor-tendinopathy/. Accessed April 9, 2019.