What is the Psoas??
The iliopsoas muscle (commonly called ‘psoas,’ pronounced SO-as) is an often-overlooked muscle involved in conditions of lower back and hip pain. It can be tricky to diagnose problems in the psoas muscle due to the fact that it serves many functions, often causes pain, and is relatively inaccessible. It is the only muscle that attaches the spine to the legs, and it is the deepest of the core muscles.
So…Is the psoas in the front or the back of my body?
Actually…both! The iliopsoas is comprised of two muscles: the psoas muscle and the iliacus muscle. The psoas major attaches at the front of the inner thigh, extends through the middle of the lower body, and attaches again on the back at the lower spine. The iliacus also attaches the the top of the femur (thigh) bone and fills the inner concave area of the hip bones.
So what does the Psoas do?
The primary function of the iliopsoas is hip flexion; these muscles lift the knee to take a step in walking, running or climbing stairs. Also, due to its attachment along the spine, the psoas plays a major role in maintaining upright posture. It can assist in extending the lumbar spine and, when excessively short, can contribute to excessive lumbar lordosis (aka: duck butt).
When the psoas gets ANGRY…
There are certain movements the generally contribute to psoas issues, but the main culprit is…SITTING! When we sit for prolonged periods of time, our psoas shortens and can start to hold that pattern even when we stand up. Whether excessively short and tight, or overstretched and strained, your psoas muscle may contribute to pain in your lower back or in your hips, especially when lifting your legs. Some specific issues you may have to look at are:
- Low blood flow (aka: ischemia) in the muscle if it is chronically contracted.
- Trigger points (or knots) in the psoas causing either referred pain or radiating nerve-like sensations. Typically, you might feel pain in your low back or front of the hips.
- Reduced range of motion, such as when a tight iliacus reduces movement at the front of the hip.
- Compensation in other parts of the body which make up for the lack of function in the psoas muscle.
The key is to know whether your psoas is short and tight and thus in need of stretching, or if it’s weak and overstretched and in need of strengthening.
I feel like my psoas might be an issue, what should I do??
A few things actually…
- Avoid sitting for extended periods OR get a support for your chair that allows your knees to rest slightly below hip level. This will keep the psoas relaxed.
- Lay off extreme exercise regimens until you assess the condition of your psoas, and know what exercises/stretches are needed to support healthy psoas function.
- Acupuncture and massage! Make sure you are seeing a licensed professional who can accurately diagnose the issue and treat according to your specific needs.
- Asses the position of your pelvis. When you are in a relaxed standing position, is your butt sticking out? Too much curve in your spine? Or is your pelvis jutting forward and your hips tilted back? This can help you see if you need to stretch or strengthen the psoas muscle.
- Work on stress reduction. Our bodies hold stress of all kinds in its cellular memory. Insecurities around finances, your living situation, and relationships can manifest as tension and inflammation in the muscles.