It’s a real drag, whether you’ve been running all winter long indoors or are emerging from hibernation, to start running outside and get injured. A particularly difficult injury to run through is a “pull” (or micro tear) of the hip flexor muscles, which run from the front of your spine (at about the belly button level) across your pelvis and end on the inside front of your upper leg.
A hip flexor pull is characterized by pain in the front of the hip, typically where the leg comes into the body; and a discomfort/pulling sensation when taking long strides, running, or while lifting your leg like you were marching in place.
This muscle can be injured traumatically when the leg gets overstretched behind you (e.g., your leg slipping on gravel as you try to forcefully push off) or from an excessively forceful contraction (e.g., a football player trying to lift the leg while a tackler is holding onto it). It can also get injured due to repetitive use. It’s hard to prevent random traumatic injuries (run on stable surfaces only—be on the lookout for end of season black ice, sand or loose gravel in the road; and give up those NFL dreams!) but there are things you can do to limit your likelihood of repetitive use problems (other than slowly increasing mileage).
Aside from strengthening the muscles that surround the hip joints, ensuring adequate flexibility is paramount both for the muscle itself and for general posture. With one foot on a chair, position the other leg behind you, toe turned in slightly. While keeping your stomach muscles tight, slowly shift your weight toward the front foot until you feel a stretch in the front of the back leg (and hold for 30 seconds 3 times).
If injured, like other muscle pulls, they respond well to rest (yeah, I know—no such thing to a runner) or at least relative rest (and, no, that doesn’t mean going from 100 miles per week to only 40); 10-15 minutes of ice over the affected area (in the acute stage); gentle massage (about 5 minutes to the area); gentle stretching; and light exercise, such as lying on your back, tightening your stomach muscles to flatten your back and small marching steps, all to assist healing and remodeling the muscle fibers.
By Tom Fontana, PT