Psoas - Get To Know Your Muscles
QUICK ANATOMY REVIEW:
The psoas (pronounced ‘so-az’) is one of the deepest core muscles in the body.
As you can see in the picture below, the psoas is a long muscle, attaching above to the upper part of the lower back as well as the intervertebral discs.
It then travels down through the abdomen and attaches to the inner part of the hip, making it one of only two muscles that attaches the spine to the lower limb.
The psoas has a number of diverse functions, making it a key factor in health.
There is still some controversy concerning it’s exact role in the body.
The psoas is partly a hip flexor - that helps bend your hip when you walk and run.
It also has an important role in stabilising the lower back and posteriorly tilts the pelvis.
HOW PSOAS BECOMES OVERLOADED:
The psoas can become tight from spending extended periods of time in the following positions:
sleeping in the fetal position
standing with a swayed back and wearing high heels too often
sitting in a kayak/canoe
The psoas becomes overloaded with repeated use in the following situations:
As it passes through, and has some attachments to the internal organs, the psoas can also be activated when there is irritation internally, (in particular the colon).
The psoas tends to tighten in response to general life stress (activated during the fight / flight response). Think of the fetal position protective response - that is the psoas causing your spine to contract.
The psoas is known as the ‘Hidden Prankster’ due to it being responsible for a lot of lower back pain (especially related to disc pain), without many people being aware of it.
Pain from a tight psoas muscle may be projected in a vertical direction in a ‘gutter’ along either side of the lowerback as well as to the sacroiliac region and buttock (see red areas marked below).
Pain may be felt during sitting and walking.
Overload of the psoas can also lead to pain and tightness in the front of the hip.
Some common manual therapy treatment approaches include:
joint mobilisation to the lower back
dry needling to the psoas insertion point in the hip and upper attachment point in the back
deep tissue and manual myofascial release on the mid-section of the muscle (pictured below). It is very difficult muscle to dry needle direclty due to its deep location and proximity to major organs.
avoid extended periods of sitting. Think about ‘time in the posture’ vs trying to find a perfect posture
consider a standing desk
avoid walking and jogging uphills and on sloped surfaces in the short-term
apply heat to the front of abdomen 10 minutes each day
sleep on side with pillow between knees, avoiding the fetal position with the hip flexed right up
use cruise control on long car trips to stretch the legs
learn to breathe through your diaphragm and manage your stress
Some of the following exercises you may find useful:
As the psoas attaches to the diaphragm, when you breathe deeply you will naturally help decompress the psoas.
You can do this by putting your hands on the outside of your lower rib cage.
As you breathe in, expand the ribs from the sides, front and back - 360 degrees.
Aim for five seconds breathe in and five seconds breathe out for 1 minute.
Building capacity in the Psoas
Weakness in the psoas causes decreased ability to flex the hip joint.
It’s really important for runners to have adequate capacity in the psoas.
Try this marching exercise below with a theraloop to help build some capacity in your hip flexors.
Need some help with your lower back or hip pain?
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