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Ask Dr. K: Hip flexor strain requires rest, then stretching

DEAR DOCTOR K: I’ve strained a muscle where my hip meets my pelvis. What can I do to relieve the discomfort?

DEAR READER: It sounds like you’ve strained your hip flexor. That’s a group of muscles that runs from your lower back to the front of your thigh. These muscles help flex your hip when you lift your leg to the front. A hip flexor strain can lead to pain where your thigh meets your pelvis, as well as pain or pinching when you pull your knee to your chest or when you climb stairs.

Many activities can cause a hip flexor strain. Possible culprits include heavy lifting or pushing, biking (especially if your seat isn’t high enough), martial arts, or running with knees lifted high.

When you first strain your hip, rest it and apply ice. Pain medications such as acetaminophen, ibuprofen or naproxen can help ease discomfort. If the pain is severe, use crutches to take weight off the area.

After swelling improves, usually in several days, do some gentle stretches. Then begin strength exercises aimed at rebuilding muscles.

I’ll describe two hip-strengthening exercises.

— KNEELING HIP FLEXOR STRETCH. Kneel on a padded mat. Put your right leg in front of you with the knee bent at a 90-degree angle and foot flat on the floor. Place your hands on your right thigh for support. Lean forward, pressing into the hip of your left leg while keeping your right foot on the floor. Hold for 10 to 30 seconds. Do three to four reps, then switch legs.

— COBBLER’S POSE. Sit on the floor. Bring the soles of your feet together and let your knees fall apart toward the floor. Place your hands on your ankles. Hinge forward from your hips until you feel the stretch in your inner thighs. Hold for 10 to 30 seconds. Repeat three to four times.

Other good hip exercises include walking in chest-high water, low-resistance biking, using an elliptical trainer and walking on level ground.

Dr. Komaroff is a physician and professor at Harvard Medical School. To send questions, go to AskDoctorK.com, or write: Ask Doctor K, 10 Shattuck St., Second Floor, Boston, MA 02115.

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