The Surprising Way Hip Flexors Pull You Down Into An Elderly Stoop And Shuffle, And How To Avoid It
A good posture can make you feel more powerful and more confident
We all get old, but we can make choices about how we age.
Our muscles and tendons stiffen and shorten as we get older. This tightening of our musculoskeletal system causes pain and also tautens us into an older-looking posture — before our time.
You might be as surprised as I was to learn that our hip flexor muscles play a significant role in making us appear older and more fragile.
You can postpone the onset of an aged posture, and its associated pain, with just a few simple exercises each day.
Sitting too long leads to tightened muscles and stiffer tendons
A good posture helps us age better and gives us a more active physical appearance for longer. This posture maintains our belief in our ability to live longer better, and belief is as important as physical activity.
In other words, a good posture can make you feel more powerful and more confident. Good posture can also boost hormone circulation — including to the brain — improve lymphatic flow and increase pain tolerance.
The nemesis of good posture is our modern lifestyle where we sit for long periods — too much sitting. We have not yet evolved to accommodate our habit of sitting for long periods.
Extended sitting not only leads to strains and misalignment of our upper body but also stiffening of crucial muscles and tendons.
Our hip flexors are one of the essential muscle groups adversely affected by extended sitting. Our hip flexors — acting as a whole team of muscles — is activated when we stand on one leg and raise the other knee. They stabilise our legs, hips and upper body so that we do not fall over.
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Stiffened hip flexors lead to stooped walking, and shuffling
Surprisingly, our hip flexors and hip rotator muscles are one key to keeping us upright, strong-looking, and walking competently. They connect the trunk of our body to our legs.
Muscles associated with the hip flexors control our twisting, leaning and bending to pick something up from inside a car, for example. When they are tight, they are prone to suddenly spasm, and this reflects in debilitating back pain.
The hip rotator muscles are responsible for turning our lower limbs inward or outward. Without these muscles, it would be difficult to maintain stability while standing, walking, or extending either of your legs away from your body. Prolonged sitting can contribute to their weakness.
Our feet, knee and hip joints are designed to move in one direction — forward — following a mostly forward-pointing foot.
Tension in the hip rotator muscles causes the feet to rotate noticeably outwards.
This outward stance creates pressure inside the joints and their surrounding tissue, creating pain and damage over time. This tension also causes soreness in the hip as well as the lower back.
Somewhat surprisingly, the stiffening and tightening of our hip flexors and hip rotators leads to the bent-over shuffling gait often seen in elderly folk!
Ever tightening hip flexor muscles — as a result of prolonged sitting — compromise the position and proper functioning of the hip joint. Combined with the tension in the hip rotator muscles contributing to rotating our feet outwards, this tightening changes our entire gait.
That’s a lot of information to take in. Here’s a summary:
- Hip flexors are the locomotive connection of our trunk to our legs.
- They control our twisting leaning and bending.
- They manage our stability, and how we turn our limbs inward or outward.
- Tension in the hip flexors causes our feet to rotate outwards.
- Moving with our feed rotated outwards aggregates our joints, and causes pain in our hips and lower back.
- Tension in our hip flexors also pulls us over into a stooped posture.
- Prolonged sitting makes our hip flexors even tighter resulting in a reduced range of movement and reflected pain from pressure on nerves.
These problems — and their associated pains — eventually prevent us from standing fully upright. We become stooped and have to take short bent-over shuffling steps to endure walking.
Seeing someone walking like this not only looks to be painful and aged, but it is painful, and it is physically contributing to their accelerated ageing!
Even if we are not aged, tight hip flexors will contribute to pains in our ankles, knees and hips while walking or running, or even just while standing. The tightness will also translate to pain in the lower back.
So regardless of age, it is best to stretch and exercise your way out of having tight hip flexors.
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These three exercises will alleviate the stiffening
Great news. It’s never too late to rebuild muscle endurance and to stretch your hip flexors and rotator muscles.
These three simple exercises are very worthwhile, and doing them once daily will take just a few minutes:
- Straight leg raise;
- Marching in place;
- Lunge to high knee raise.
This video from Madden PT explains each very clearly.
Help your posture with this bonus exercise
Tight hip flexors are not the only cause of a stooped posture.
Therefore, I also recommend this “bonus” related exercise.
The exercise is not for your hips but your strained upper back. Prolonged sitting with your head bent forward causes a weakening of the thoracic muscles.
This weakening leads to a stooped head and not only pains in the upper and lower back but also leg pains from alignment problems. That is the connection with the previous exercises I recommend. These exercises are all aimed at improving your mobility and posture.
You can reverse these alignment problems by strengthening your upper back muscles. Increasing the muscle tone helps pull up the shoulders and to pull back your head to rest on top of your spine.
Door frame stretches (and push-ups)
Do this simple exercise daily (or even better, every 2 hours when you are working on your computer):
Door-frame pushups: lean into a door frame with your hands on each side. Then lower yourself slowly into the frame so that you move your shoulders past your hands. Hold there for 20 seconds. If it hurts your shoulders stop. Then execute 10 controlled “push-ups” bringing your shoulders back to the level of the doorframe. If you are comfortable and feeling competent, try moving your feet further back, and/or lowering your shoulders slightly further into the frame.
Try different positions with your hands and arms until you hit on one which is not uncomfortable as you move your shoulders past the level of your hands. It may be as in the stretch above, or it may be more like a wall pushup with your hands pushing on the door frame.
Just a few minutes a day and you can reduce your chances of hip, knee and foot pains, and stand straighter and stronger for longer.
Good luck. Let me know how you go.
I’m Walter Adamson. I write about life, health, exercise, life and cognitive fitness to help men and women over 50 live longer better.
Originally published at https://www.walteradamson.com.