There is some compelling research by Moreside and McGill (click here for the article) in which they improved hip range of motion by stretching (the hip itself as well as the myofascial components). Makes sense, right? But here’s the interesting part: another group performed only core endurance and control exercises and didn’t stretch the hip at all – and hip rotation improved. A third group stretched and stabilized – no surprise they improved hip range the most. Why does this matter, besides being pretty cool? Well those with low back pain have been found to have MORE lumbar and pelvis motion during hip rotation which increases dangerous shearing forces across the spine (by the way, the spine was built to handle lots of compression but not so much with the shearing stuff). Hip-spine dissociation then becomes critical in which the stiffened spine allows improved realization of hip motion and power – improving performance.
While this hasn’t been explicitly studied in other body regions, I believe there is a significant neuromotor, self-protective event occurring – the nervous system limits joint motion in response to poor dynamic control of the spine. The result is what appears to be tight hips, tight hamstrings, tight shoulders but really may be a vicious cycle in which poor spine control causes poor extremity control and a reactive tightening or fixating of the tissues downstream ultimately causing altered movement of the spine – won’t be long before your back hurts. Not to mention excellent hip mobility is necessary for nearly all athletic movements.
Bottomline: Improving spinal control (no, not sit-ups/crunches but functional positions with progressive core demands) and being hyper-aware of spinal positioning before and during movement can help improve extremity control and performance and will certainly augment your ongoing mobility work. Here’s a prior piece we did on improving hip rotation mobility in swinging athletes.