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Hip flexor strain - aftercare

The hip flexors are a group of muscles that help you flex or move your leg and knee up towards your body.

A muscle strain occurs when a muscle is over-stretched or torn.

A hip flexor strain occurs when one or more of the hip flexor muscles becomes stretched or torn.

More about your injury

Hip flexors allow you to bend your knee and flex your hip. Sudden movements such as sprinting, kicking, and changing direction while running or moving can stretch and tear the hip flexors. 

Runners, people who do martial arts, and football, soccer, and hockey players are more likely to have this type of injury.

Other factors that can lead to hip flexor strain include:

  • Weak muscles
  • Not warming up
  • Stiff muscles
  • Trauma or falls

What to expect

You will feel a hip flexor strain in the front area where your thigh meets your hip. Depending on how bad the strain is, you may notice:

  • Mild pain and pulling in the front of the hip.
  • Cramping and sharp pain. It may be hard to walk without limping.
  • Severe pain, spasms, bruising, and swelling. The top of the thigh muscle may budge. It will be hard to walk. These are signs of a complete tear, which is less common. You may have some bruising down the front of your thigh a few days after injury.

You may need to use crutches for a severe strain.

Symptom relief

Follow these steps for the first few days or weeks after your injury:

  • Rest – stop any activity that causes pain.
  • Ice the area for 20 minutes every 3 to 4 hours for 2-3 days. Do NOT apply ice directly to your skin.
  • Take pain medicine if you need to. For pain, you can use ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), naproxen (Aleve, Naprosyn), or acetaminophen (Tylenol). You can buy these pain medicines at the store.

Talk with your health care provider before using pain medicines if you have heart disease, high blood pressure, kidney disease, or have had stomach ulcers or internal bleeding in the past. Do not take more than the amount recommended on the bottle or by your health care provider.

Activity

Your doctor may recommend exercises to help stretch and strengthen your hip flexors. While resting the area, you may want to do exercises that don't strain your hip flexors, such as swimming.

For a severe strain, you may want to see a physical therapist (PT). The therapist will work with you to:

  • Stretch and strengthen your hip flexor muscles and other muscles that surround and support.
  • Guide you in increasing your activity level so you may return to your former activities.

Self-care at home

Follow your doctor's recommendations for rest, ice, and pain relief medicines. If you are seeing a PT, be sure to do the exercises as directed. Following a care plan will help your muscles heal and help prevent future injury.

When to call the doctor

Call your doctor if you don't feel better in a few weeks with treatment.

References

Nicola T, El Shami A. Rehabilitation of running injuries. Clinics in Sports Medicine. 2012;31(2).

Lacroix VJ. A complete approach to groin pain. Phys Sportsmed. 2000;28(1):66-86.

Philippon MJ, Decker MJ, Giphart JE, et al. Rehabilitation exercise progression for the gluteus medius muscle with consideration for iliopsoas tendinitis: an in vivo electromyography study. Am J Sports Med. 2011;39(8):1777-1785.

Shah A, Busconi B. Hip, pelvis, and thigh. In: DeLee JC, Drez D Jr, Miller M, eds. DeLee and Drez's Orthopaedic Sports Medicine. 3rd ed. St. Louis, MO: W.B. Saunders; 2009:chap 21.

Updated: 5/15/2013

C. Benjamin Ma, MD, Assistant Professor, Chief, Sports Medicine and Shoulder Service, UCSF Department of Orthopaedic Surgery. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Bethanne Black, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.


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