The Connection Between Hip Flexor Tightness and Headaches

As we discussed in this recent blog, tightness or stiffness in the neck is a leading cause of headaches. It is no secret that we often hold stress and tension in our neck and shoulders, and this soreness and irritation can trigger headaches. Headaches are also linked to poor posture, inflammation of the neck or upper back, and weak neck and back muscles. 

But with our interconnected body, the root of a headache can come from any number of places. This includes your hip flexors.

What are Hip Flexors?

As the name suggests, your hip flexors are a group of muscles responsible for flexing the hip. They’re the backbone of everyday movements like walking, running, or even getting up from a chair, as they are the largest joints in the human body. Their main job is to stabilise your body during activities such as lifting, pushing, and pulling. Think of it like this: when you lift a box, your hip flexors help keep your spine aligned and prevent you from toppling over. 

They’re also crucial for sports. Whether you’re jumping to shoot in basketball or kicking a ball in soccer, your hip flexors provide strength and mobility.

From high-intensity sports to your day-to-day activities, it’s important to keep your hip flexors strong and flexible. That’s easier said than done. For many, modern life consists of sitting for hours on end. This can turn our hip flexors from heroes to a hindrance. 

This tightness can lead to a cascade of problems, including:

  • pain and stiffness in your hips and lower back
  • muscle imbalances and compensation patterns
  • reduced range of motion

The side effects of tight hip flexors are not limited to just the hips. In fact, it can extend all the way to headaches.

Relief from tightness in the hip flexors

How do Tight Hip Flexors Cause Headaches?

Tight myofascial tissue and muscles in one part of your body can cause pain in another. While the source may be more obvious when it occurs locally, tension and discomfort can arise almost anywhere. 

One of the key things to remember when you have pain or discomfort in your body is to look at the surrounding areas. Causes of headaches often lie in issues external to the head, such as tightness in the neck or hip flexor muscles. 

Kinetic chain: The relationship between hip flexor tightness and headaches

A kinetic chain (or kinematic chain) refers to the interrelated parts of the body working together to perform movements. 

The upper body kinetic chain starts at the top of the spine and goes through the shoulders, upper arms, elbows, forearms, wrists, and fingers. The lower kinetic chain runs from the toes, all the way through the legs, hips, and pelvis to your lower spine. 

When it comes to tight hip flexors and headaches, it is the kinetic chain of the axial body. This runs through the pelvis, lumbar spine, thoracic spine, and cervical spine, finishing at the head. Each joint can move independently, but they rely on one another to function at their best. 

For better or worse, the effects of motion and posture in one area of the body will cascade into others. So the impact of tightness in the hip flexor is not confined to just the hips. It affects the curvature of your lower spine (lumbar spine), which affects the curvature of your upper spine (thoracic spine), and so on. Eventually, this flows onto your posterior neck muscles, which when tight is what causes that headache.

What Causes Tight Hip Flexors?

Your deep hip flexor muscles play an important role in stability and movement. They keep the ball joint that connects to the pelvis in each of your leg bones in an optimal position. Poor strength and control in these muscles can lead to excessive shifting during movement, instead of the ideal rolling and gliding.

This ‘micro-instability’ leads to irritation, pain, and tightness. When this occurs, your body’s natural response is to contact the muscles. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as it can provide stability in the joints. However, when your deeper hip muscles are weak or inhibited – your larger stronger muscles are forced to overcompensate. 

Why is this a problem? These larger muscles are designed for movement, not to stabilise. Unfortunately, muscles cannot do everything at once.

Tightness in the hip flexors can occur from extended periods of inactivity. If your typical day is spent hunched over a computer, your hip flexors shorten and tighten, pulling your pelvis forward. This throws off your lower back’s alignment.

Like a domino tipping over, your spine now must compensate, creating a ripple effect up your neck and shoulders. In this case, those tight neck muscles are merely innocent bystanders reacting to the tension travelling up from your hips.

However, tightness in the hip flexors can just as easily arise from the exact opposite. For runners, they rely on their powerful hip flexors to propel them forward. But if they’re too tight, typically a result of over exertion or forgetting to warm up, it can pull their pelvis out of alignment. This disrupts the natural rhythm of their stride, forcing other muscles to compensate, like their lower back.

Improve hip flexor strength and stability

Imagine that runner pushing through a marathon. As they begin to fatigue, their overworked muscles protest, forcing others to compensate. Eventually, this compensation can flow all the way up to their head.

Both in activity and inactivity, poor posture is a common root of tightness. Poor static posture, like when sitting or sleeping, and/or poor dynamic posture can put undue stress on your hips.

So, the next time you reach for a pain reliever, remember: the answer to your headache might not be in your head or neck at all. It could be hiding in your hips, waiting to be released. 

How to Reduce Tightness in Your Hip Flexor Muscles


Gentle stretches like lunges, pulling your foot backwards towards your buttocks, and figure-four stretches can help loosen up those tight muscles. Remember, consistency is key! A few minutes of stretching every day is far more effective than the rare but extensive stretching session. 

However, all the stretching in the world can only do so much. For some, stretching might bring mild relief but not prevent long-term tension and tightness. Loosening your hip flexor muscles is a good start, but it will struggle to mitigate muscle compensation and consequently hip tightness in the future. With micro-instability as a leading cause of hip flexor tightness, it may be better to focus on strength and stability to tackle the cause of the issue.

Strength training

Strengthening your deep hip muscles lets them do their job properly and prevents muscle imbalances and overcompensation. Think of your hip flexors as the engines that drive your movement. Whether you’re chasing after your kids, conquering that hill on your bike, or simply getting up from a chair – strong hip flexors make it all happen. But just like any engine, they need regular tune-ups and maintenance. 

So, how do we build strong, resilient hip flexors? The answer doesn’t have to be gruelling gym sessions. With a little effort, you can take small, consistent steps that fit seamlessly into your day.

Think bite-sized workouts. Squeeze in a few lunges while you wait for the kettle to boil. Do some side plank lifts while watching TV. Even waiting in the elevator can be an opportunity for mini-squats (as long as you have the space). 

Remember, progress, not perfection, is key. Strength training isn’t about pushing through pain. Focus on exercises that feel comfortable, that lengthen and energise your hip flexors.

Don’t be afraid to modify your routine to fit your body. If a full lunge is too much, try a kneeling lunge. Building strong hip flexors isn’t just about conquering a workout. It’s about letting your body do the work for you, giving it the strength it needs to move with ease.

Move your body and mind your posture

Don’t just sit there! Get up and walk, run, dance, Pilates – anything that gets your hips moving is a win. Aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate intensity exercise most days of the week.

Likewise, whether you’re sitting, standing, or walking, good posture is essential for keeping your hips aligned and happy. Stand tall, don’t’ slump in your chair when sitting, and avoid hunching over your phone.

How City Physiotherapy Can Treat Hip Flexor Tightness

While you’ll find many exercises online to improve hip flexor strength and flexibility, or reduce headaches, these aren’t one size fits all. 

At City Physiotherapy, we believe in treating the whole you, not just your symptoms. We understand that headaches, hip flexor tightness, and everything in between aren’t just a local issue; it’s all a part of your interconnected kinetic chain. That’s why we don’t just offer generic stretches and exercises. We develop personalised plans that fit your schedule and fitness level, making it easy to continue your progress at home.

Treat the cause of headaches and hip flexor tightness at City Physiotherapy

Beyond the surface, we don’t just look at your hips. We assess your entire kinetic chain, from your feet to your neck, to see how tightness might be impacting other areas like your lower back and even causing headaches. Through in-depth assessment, our physiotherapist will meticulously analyse your posture, movement patterns, and pain points. This helps us identify the root cause of your tightness, whether it’s prolonged sitting, muscle imbalances, or even an old sports injury.

We believe in empowering you with knowledge. We’ll explain the “why” behind your treatment plan, so you understand how each exercise and technique is helping you heal.

Contact City Physiotherapy Today 

If you are suffering from headaches, book an appointment with City Physio Adelaide to discuss your treatment and preventative treatment options. We can assess you to determine the exact source of your pain, the best treatments for you, and how to prevent and diminish further pain. 

Book an assessment of your back and spine from one of our physiotherapists online today! Start your journey towards recovery and wellness with City Physiotherapy Adelaide.

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