Ask the Professor: Why Is There Pain in My Inner Thighs?
Q: My inner thighs get tight and sore after I run, squat or even do kettlebell swings. What’s going on?
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A: Though you may think they only get action on the “good girl/bad girl” machine, your adductors are actually working hard during many of your regular exercises.
The adductor group consists of five muscles, which originate mostly at the pubic bone, run down the inside of your thigh and attach along the length of your femur. Their primary action is to bring your legs inward toward the midline of your body, but they also assist your hamstrings, hips and glutes with hip flexion and extension. In addition, they contribute to hip stabilization during sagittal plane movements like running or swinging a kettlebell, working to match the tension created by the abductors on the outside of your hips to keep your femur/pelvis moving forward and backward, preventing unwanted movement and possible injury. If this balance is off, your knees won’t track properly and could collapse inward (too much adductor) or bow outward (too much abductor).
So as you can see, your adductors are engaged during all the activities you mentioned, with every step you take when running and each rep you perform in a squat or swing.
Cause and Effect
The first thing to do if your adductors are consistently sore and tight is to check your form. Are your knees collapsing inward with each footfall as you run? Do you hike or drop a hip on one side or shift into one hip as you squat? Here, either your adductors are overactive or the primary movers or opposing stabilizers are weak — or both. Alternately, your adductors could lack the strength or endurance to do their stabilizing/synergistic job, resulting in tightness afterward. And mobility — or lack thereof — also could be to blame because if your adductors are too tight, you might actually be causing a minor tear or pull each time you exercise.
Add these four exercises into your programming to improve your adductor engagement and effectiveness across the board, and to reduce the complaints from the inner-thigh department.
Activating your primary movers before lifting takes the pressure off your adductors to carry the load. And activating them together, as with this exercise, teaches the synergy needed for proper alignment.
Banded Bridge and March
Secure a resistance loop around the arches of your feet and then lie faceup and place them on a bench, toes flexed. Lift your hips off the ground, creating a straight line from head to heels, and hold here as you pull one knee toward your chest as high as you can (hip flexion) while actively driving the other heel into the bench (hip extension). Replace your foot on the bench and continue, alternating sides.
Strengthening your adductors to match the force and strength of your abductors will result in better hip stabilization and joint alignment.
Lie on your left side with your elbow underneath your shoulder and place your right foot on top of a chair/bench; extend your left leg underneath. Lift your hips into a side plank and hold here as you lift your bottom leg to meet the underside of the bench and hold for a few counts. Lower your leg and then your hips back to the start.
Release and Relieve
Combat tight adductors with moves such as this two to three times per week.
Quadruped Adductor Hinge
Get on all fours, then extend one leg straight out to the side with your foot flat until you feel a stretch in your inner thigh. Then slowly shift your hips backward as if going into Child’s Pose, keeping your head in line with your spine and pushing back only until you feel resistance. Then return to the start. As mobility improves, sit back farther toward your heels.
If your adductors have been out of sync with the rest of your hip/leg musculature for a while, this can reteach them proper control and alignment.
Stand on a platform with one foot off the side. Place your hands on your hips and keep them square as you drop your foot down by actively lowering the hip on that side; do not twist or turn and keep your shoulders level. Pause briefly, then return to the start. Now hike that hip up as high as possible without twisting and pause, then return to the start.