If you, like me, are an avid soccer fan and player, then the odds are you’ve experienced something similar to this: a painful pulling sensation somewhere deep in your hips, extending all the way to your lower back, and sometimes, down to your legs. Sometimes, the pain is easy enough to deal with, and you can keep running and playing the game you love. Sometimes, it seems much worse, and you end up bedridden for days, weeks, or even months.
I’ll tell you right now: that kind of pain – hip flexor pain – is nothing to be taken lightly.
The lower half of our body has muscles largely focused on locomotion. In our hips lie a set of muscles that work together to perform movements that allow our legs to move; when contracting, these muscles pull our femur up towards our chest. These muscles are collectively known as the iliopsoas, pronounced with a silent “p,” and so named because it is a combination of the psoas major, and iliacus muscles. They are the strongest of the hip flexors and, together with the rectus femoris (part of the quadriceps) and the sartorius muscle, are responsible for are responsible for the movement of the femur. They basically allow us to run, jump, and kick.
The ilipsoas is the strongest of the hip flexors because it is subjected to more force than any of the others. If too much force is exerted, the muscle can tear, resulting in hip flexor pain. The injury can vary from a grade one tear where only a few muscle fibers are damaged, to a grade three tear where the entire iliopsoas is severed, and all function is lost. Without proper anterior hip precautions however, even a simple grade one tear can turn into a grade two or grade three muscle tear. Too many times, I’ve found myself lying on my back in the middle of the field after having torn my hip flexors during a long pass because I ignored the slight but undeniable jolt of pain of a grade one muscle tear.
In order to care for hip flexor pain, the first thing to do is rest the injury. By denying the muscle any more stress, the body is able to heal much faster, and the risk of worsening the tear is minimized. A damaged muscle is a weak muscle capable of handling less physical force than a fully functioning muscle. Application of ice or some other cold compress is then recommended to reduce blood flow to the area and prevent excessive internal bleeding. Keeping the injury elevated also assists in this. If all goes well, the muscle will repair itself, although a grade two or grade three tear may require medical attention. Worst-case scenarios may take months to recover from, but avoiding physical exertion of the iliopsoas can dramatically reduce this period to a few weeks.
Most athletes will tell you of course, that muscle injury is avoidable; and I agree. I’ve found that the best way to avoid hip flexor tears is to keep your muscles in good condition. This requires a good diet to supplement your muscles with the nutrition necessary for them to function and maintain themselves, but, more directly and importantly, it means exercise. A good stretch during a warm-up routine will develop flexibility in muscles, allowing them to take on physically straining movements without giving way. A proper training regimen also develops muscle memory, allowing you to perform actions such as kicks with proper form, and minimal risk of injury.
Injury is a part of any sport. Hip flexor pain happens to be one that plagues soccer players. Still, it isn’t a new problem, and there are time-tested methods of dealing with it. Therefore, while hip flexor pain is an injury that can and often will happen, I’ve accepted the risk as part of the game. All I have to do is reduce the odds that I fall prey to it. I take care of my body, and I have never believed it to be a reason to stop playing the game I love.