Spine Boot Camp

Top Two Reasons Your Hip Stretching Routine May Not Be Helping

Does this sound like you?

“I do my stretches and if feels good for a while but then things tighten back up. I feel like I’m not getting anywhere!”

Patients tell us that quite often and we feel it is likely due to two things.

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Two reasons your Hip Stretches may not be helping

  1. You keep doing things that stiffen you up again. Remember Einstein’s definition of insanity? Expecting different results when we keep doing the same thing. Let’s assume a lot of us have to sit a lot for our work or leisure activities. No secret that prolonged sitting results in tight and stiff hips. Stretching is a great idea but then if you sit for prolonged periods, you will probably just end up getting stiff again.
  2. Your nervous system can’t control the new Range of Motion (ROM) the stretching has delivered. If you think about it, stretching increases the ROM of a body part (in this case the hips) but if the nervous system isn’t used to that increased ROM, it will not know how to control it. A body part that goes into a ROM that isn’t well-controlled means that we are vulnerable to injury which sounds the danger alarm! In response our brains protect that body part by telling it to tighten back down to a reduced ROM that is controllable.

The Fix (AKA the Secret to Hip Stretches)

As you stretch, you need to re-train our brain and nervous system on how to control that new ROM. There are a number of different ways to achieve this. One of these is called the PAILS and RAILS stretching technique.

PAILS stands for Progressive Active Isometric Stretch and RAILS stands for Regressive Active Isometric Stretch. Quite a mouthful so lets break it down.

Active Isometric means that you are asking the muscle to contract without moving. Progressive means you are asking the muscles on the side of the joint that is getting stretched to activate. Regressive means you are activating the muscles on the side of the joint that is getting shorter in the stretch position. Check out these hip muscle stretching examples to see how this works:

Hip Flexor PAILS and RAILS

Hamstring PAILS and RAILS Against The Wall

Adductor PAILS and RAILS On The Wall

Adductor PAILS and RAILS Stretches On The Wall

Summary About Hip Stretches

Flexibility is different than mobility. Mobility includes enhancing flexibility while retraining your brain and nervous system to control that full range of motion.

Traditional hip stretching can be helpful but is often frustrating. You feel better after stretching but the results tend to not last. The two main reasons for this are:

  1. Going back to the same activities that created the problem in the first place so you stiffen back up again (Recall Einstein’s definition of insanity)
  2. Your nervous system isn’t familiar with the new range of motion the stretching has given you.

If your nervous system can’t control the new ROM the stretching has delivered then it will start telling that area to tighten back up to protect against injury.

PAILS and RAILS stretching technique is a great first step to retrain your nervous system to control the enhanced ROM.

There are other methods we use to build on top of these hip stretching techniques that we will be introducing in future workshops and posts.


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