Could Digestive Issues and Low Back Pain be Caused by Tight Hip Flexors?
Many people act as though health issues are specific and isolated. It's time for a new angle. The systems in your body are intricately connected: if you’re experiencing problems in one area it can directly affect another.
This domino effect is especially prevalent when it comes to your back, hips, and digestive system.
Your abdominal region is packed full of tissues and necessary systems that you use 24/7. It is home to your bladder, kidneys, female reproductive system and can also be ground zero for potential dysfunction, from ovarian cysts to irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
Many of these internal organs in your abdomen are also adjacent to the iliopsoas or hip flexor muscles. That’s why it isn’t uncommon for patients to ask me: can IBS cause hip and groin pain?
I’m going to walk you through the inner workings of your abdominal region so you can better understand your body and how your organ health directly relates to your muscle health.
How body alignment and tight muscles affect digestion and back pain
Body alignment is an essential part of overall bodily functioning and health. When your spine or hips are out of alignment, it can throw many things off. And if left unaddressed, it can lead to more complicated medical issues.
The impact of your muscles on your body alignment is also often overlooked. If your muscles - especially your iliopsoas muscles - are too tight, they can pull and shift joint and bone alignment. This misalignment, in turn, can disrupt even your organ function.
The role of your iliopsoas muscle
Your iliopsoas is one of your primary hip flexor muscles. It is comprised of two muscles: the iliacus and the psoas. Your iliacus attaches directly to the pelvis, while your psoas attaches to your lower spine and travels diagonally through your body to where both muscles cross the hip joint and attach to the femur (thigh bone).
The location and overlap from the lower to the upper body are essentially what makes up your body’s core. The iliopsoas acts as a stabilizer for your hips and your spine, so if those muscles are too tight or not working properly, it impacts everything around them.
When your core is weak, your body as a whole becomes weak and wobbly.
Your core helps you perform many daily functions like sitting, standing, squatting, etc. It is no wonder then that your iliopsoas muscles may get tight from all this use; they are continually being used and engaged, and very rarely getting time to relax.
On top of this, the iliopsoas muscles are located right next to your reproductive organs, bowel, bladder, and large intestine. The proximity of the iliopsoas to these systems affords the muscles more opportunities to protect the abdominal organs when one system is struggling or weak.
One primary example is if you have irritable bowel syndrome or any other digestive tract issue.
Your body will react by tightening surrounding muscles to protect that part of your body. Since the iliopsoas muscle is one of the closest muscles to your intestines, keeping the iliopsoas muscle tight is your body’s natural response.
Depending on the location of the organ issue, different parts of the iliopsoas will tighten, and other muscles may also join in. The tension can continue to spread over time or as the condition worsens, causing pain.
Pain from abdominal issues
Now you should have a good understanding of how your muscles, organs, and bones are interconnected and can affect each other when one isn’t functioning properly. You’ve also seen that your body alignment can get disrupted if your muscles are too tight. When your body alignment is disrupted, there is increased potential for organ discomfort or abdominal issues to arise as well.
How tight hip flexors affect the digestive system
Tight hip flexors can affect your digestive health. Your iliacus and psoas are located right next to the small and large intestine. When you begin to have issues with either part of the intestine, it can cause the iliopsoas muscles to quickly tighten around the intestinal area.
Medical issues like irritable bowel syndrome can cause hip and groin pain, which is why if you start to have lower back pain, it could be due to your digestive issues.
As the iliopsoas tightens, it doesn’t much matter where the tightening begins. Once one part of the hip flexor muscles are impacted, the rest of them play an internal tug of war to try to balance and stabilize the core of your body. As the muscle tightness increases, the pull on your bones also increases. This pull is what impacts body alignment and how your joints fit together. These subtle changes can affect your posture, the way you walk, and cause back and hip pain over time.
How tight hip flexors affect the reproductive system and urinary tract
Just as the digestive system can impact muscle health, the reproductive organs and urinary tract are part of your abdominal health as well. Issues with your kidney, bladder, or reproductive organs (ovaries, uterus, prostate) can affect body alignment and iliopsoas tightness.
When your body is going through significant change or trauma, this muscle reaction becomes even more elaborate. For instance, when a woman experiences pregnancy and childbirth, there are some major adjustments her body must make. This additional trauma often causes the iliopsoas muscles to overtighten: they’re attempting to stabilize and realign the hips and back.
Other major organ traumas like ovarian cysts can cause issues with the iliopsoas muscles. The ovaries are very close to the iliopsoas muscle, so once they’re inflamed, the muscle contracts and tightens to keep the area safe and protected.
If you are unsure if you have ovary issues, but you are having groin or abdominal pain, it is important to note muscle tightness. Tight iliopsoas muscles alone can cause groin and abdominal pain, so pain may not necessarily be attributed to the organ itself.
Muscle release for abdominal pain
When you’re experiencing medical issues such as IBS, ovarian cysts, or general digestive problems, working closely with a medical professional is important. There are many contributing factors to your organs’ health, including your diet, exercise routine, and overall wellness.
Tight muscles can also be a major contributing factor to your lower back, groin, and hip pain. With that in mind, finding ways to integrate some muscle-specific exercises, stretches, and releases into your routine could improve your abdominal health and realign your body to get things back on track a bit faster.
Targeted iliacus and psoas release
One of the most effective ways to release tight muscles is to apply prolonged (30-90 second) pressure.
One major issue with the psoas and the iliacus muscle is that they are difficult to reach unless you have a massage therapist or physical therapist there to help you. This is why I invented the Hip Hook.
The Hip Hook is the world’s first muscle release tool for both the psoas and the iliacus. Its unique angled design allows you to apply prolonged pressure while relaxing the rest of your body. Initially, the pressure is applied to the psoas muscle. Pressing down on the handle allows the tip to pivot and apply direct angular pressure to the iliacus. Releasing your psoas and iliacus muscles once a day for just a few minutes can bring astounding results, and you will be able to feel an immediate difference in your hip alignment.
Don’t ignore your backside! Because tight hip flexors affect the front and back of the body, it’s also important to release the muscles in the back of the hips. To tackle those points, you can use the Hip Release Ball.
No matter your condition, adding a bit of stretching into your life will do you good. You should err on the side of caution, however, because too much stretching can be detrimental to your hip flexor muscles. It is best to stretch your iliopsoas muscles in moderation.
Beyond focusing solely on your hip flexor muscles, adding in some trunk twists and back stretches can also be helpful. This spreads out the muscle area being stretched and opens more areas along your spine, hips, and core.
Taking a few gentle yoga or restorative yoga classes can be helpful to give you a few ideas for specific hip or back openers as well as some twists to work into your stretching routine.
Muscle relaxation and muscle release go hand in hand. Since your iliopsoas muscles are engaged continuously even when performing simple tasks (like sitting), they hardly ever get a break from contracting.
Something we often don’t get enough of these days is rest and relaxation. This can come in many forms, but find 10-20 minutes every day to truly relax (and not just right before bed).
Relaxation could be something as simple as lying on the floor and taking deep breaths for 10 minutes. It could be a hip flexor release with your legs resting on the couch while your back is on the floor. It could be scheduling a Swedish massage once a month.
Whatever you can fit into your schedule and budget, I highly recommend taking the time to truly relax your mind and your muscles each day.
The final piece of the puzzle that we have for you today is to look after your bones and joints. Many chiropractic doctors and massage therapists will work together to create a healing space for your body.
Chiropractic care may not need to be an ongoing piece of your treatment plan, but if your iliopsoas muscle tightness has pulled your hips or spine out of alignment, then a few visits could be helpful.
As you work to release and relax your muscles, your body will start to realign naturally. However, depending on the severity of the misalignment, you may need some extra help from a chiropractor.
Take control of your abdominal health
The more you understand your body’s inner mechanics, the more you learn how interconnected your organs, muscles, and bones are, the more likely you’ll discover a treatment plan that is right for your body.
To further your knowledge of how the iliopsoas muscle impacts most aspects of your body, check out my book Tight Hip, Twisted Core: The Key to Unresolved Pain.
This book not only contains helpful information on the way your muscles, organs, and bones work together to form a healthy, balanced core, but also targeted stretches and tools to relieve lower back and hip pain.
FAQs on digestive issues
Can tight hip flexors cause digestive problems?
The iliopsoas muscles are in close proximity to the intestines. Tension in the psoas and iliacus muscles can create a general alignment imbalance, affecting the functioning of these organs.
Can tight hip flexors cause constipation?
Muscular tension can compress and restrict organ functioning and bowel movements. Releasing the muscles in this area, especially the psoas and iliacus muscles can provide relief.