Is a bad back slowing you down? When you have back discomfort, it’s natural to assume there is something brewing or damaged in that specific area to cause such symptoms. But for those living with the burden of lower-back pain, the source of soreness isn’t always so obvious. In fact, it may be stemming from another body part: the hips.

For the lower back to function properly, your hips must be happy. The hip flexors are a group of muscles that connect the lower back to the hips, thigh bones, and groin. When healthy, they work to stabilize the lower spine, as well as mobilize the legs during such daily activities as walking, stair climbing, balancing, and maintaining proper posture.

In order for the hip flexors to do their job, they require daily stretching. This is especially true because tight hip flexors can strike anyone at any age, whether you’re sedentary all day or an avid athlete who runs regularly. When these muscles shrink, or become rigid or weak, this tight tissue pulls on the front of the pelvis, causing a tilt that affects posture and results in imbalances, specifically in the lower back.

Flexibility is the key to having a body that is functional and free of pain. Help your hip flexors and reduce lower-back aches with these top strengthening stretches:

Sitting stretch

  • Using a sturdy seat, cross your right leg over your left so that your right ankle is above your knee. Keep your spine straight, shoulders back, and left foot planted firmly on the floor. If your range of motion permits, try to lower your right knee so your crossed leg is parallel with the floor.

  • From this position, lean forward at your waist until you feel a deep stretch in your right hip. Hold for 15 to 20 seconds, then release and repeat on the opposite side.

» READ MORE: 3 ways to strengthen shoulder flexibility

Standing lunge

  • Begin in a standing position. Take a step back with your left leg so it stays in line with your hip. Your right knee should be bent at about a 90-degree angle and stacked above your ankle with your weight in your heel. Extend your left leg straight. Rest your hands on your front thigh.

  • Gently shift your weight forward at your hips, without extending your front knee past your toes. Keep your hips even, chest open, and gaze forward. You should feel a stretch at the front of your left hip. Remember to keep breathing evenly as you hold this stretch for 20 seconds, then switch sides.

Pigeon pose

  • Using a mat, start in a tabletop position with shoulders stacked over hands and hips over knees.

  • Rotate your right leg in at the knee to bring your lower leg under your torso. Your right knee will rest behind your right hand. Slide your left leg back until it is fully extended and your weight is on your right glute/hip. Open your chest and look forward. If this is challenging, simply place a rolled towel or pillow under your right glute for support. Hold for 20 seconds, then repeat on the left side.

Ashley Blake Greenblatt is a certified personal trainer and wellness coach in South Jersey. To learn more about her virtual training program, go to ashleyblakefitness.com.