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The mighty psoas


The psoas muscle (pronounced SO-as) is an essential muscle group, whether you bike, dance, run, or are just lazing about, your psoas muscles are working. Structurally, your psoas muscles are the deepest muscles in your core. Attaching to your 12th thoracic vertebrae to your 5 lumbar vertebrae, through your pelvis where they finally attach to your femurs.

The psoas is the only muscle that connect your spine to your legs. It allows you to bend your hips and legs towards your chest, they also help to move your leg forward when you walk or run. They also stabilize your torso and spine during movement and sitting. What makes it special Healthy psoas muscles are vital to your structural well-being, but also to your psychological well-being because of their connection to your breath. There are two tendons for the diaphragm (called the crura) that extend down and connect to the spine alongside where the psoas muscles attach. One of the ligaments (the medial arcuate) wraps around the top of each psoas. The diaphragm and the psoas muscles are connected through fascia.

These connections between the psoas muscle and the diaphragm literally connect your ability to walk and breathe, and also how you respond to fear and excitement.

During prolonged periods of stress, your psoas is constantly contracted. The same contraction occurs when you:

  • sit for long periods of time

  • engage in excessive running or walking

  • sleep in the fetal position

  • do a lot of sit-ups

All of these activities compress the front of your hip and shorten your psoas muscle. But that doesn’t necessarily mean you should automatically stretch your psoas if you have pain in the front of your hip joint.

In fact, depending on your situation, stretching your psoas may actually do more harm than good! 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.

Your Psoas can impact your mood. Your psoas muscles create a muscular shelf that your kidneys and adrenals rest on. As you breathe properly your diaphragm moves and your psoas muscles gently massage these organs, stimulating blood circulation. But, when the psoas muscles become imbalanced, so do your kidneys and adrenal glands, causing physical and emotional exhaustion.

When you have a tight psoas muscle, you may experience pain in your lower back or in your hips, especially when lifting your legs. This is caused by the muscle compressing the discs in the lumbar region of your back.

A good way to check for yourself, find a firm raised surface e.g a beauty therapist table, bench/ table, lay down on your back, with your legs off of the edge (and feet dangling, so not resting on the floor) hug one knee into your chest & see if your other leg lifts. Then get someone to straighten out the leg if it's lifted, and see if that change in position, if it does not drop down, it is likely to be a tight.

If your psoas is weak, it can flatten the natural curve of your lumbar spine creating a “flat butt.” This misalignment is characterised by tight hamstrings pulling down on the sitting bones, which causes the sacrum to lose its natural curve and results in a flattened lumbar spine.

A good way to check for yourself, lie on your back and hold your leg in the air (If you cannot bring your leg near 90°, keep a slight bend in the knee and bring it as high as you can). Ideally, you should be able to hold it up there for a minute or longer without strain. If you find that this difficult, there is a chance you need to strengthen your psoas.

To strengthen your psoas, lay on your back next to a door frame. Raise one leg straight so that it is against the wall, with your other leg extended through the door way. Bend your extended leg and using your hands to slow down the movement and create resistance, bring your bent knee toward your chest.

To stretch your Psoas, find a firm raised surface e.g a beauty therapist table, bench/ table, resume a lunge position with the back leg across the table, straighten out your back so it is inline with the raised leg and then imagine someone is lifting your hips away from the table (so not to sink into the lower back).

A tight psoas will try to tilt the pelvis anteriorly by pulling the spine and top of the pelvis forward and down, so to stretch the Psoas, think about tilting the pelvis posteriorly to stretch the hip flexors, by keeping your pubic bones toward the table and moving your upper pelvis and navel back away from the table, and draw your breastbone toward the table. These actions help you tilt the pelvis posteriorly, move the lumbar spine toward the back of the body (instead of letting a tight psoas pull it forward and down).

NOTE It is possible for your psoas muscles to be both tight and overstretched. In this case, your pelvis is pulled forward in front of your centre of gravity, causing your back to curve (swayback) and your head to poke forward.

What can you do to keep a happy & healthy psoas

  • Avoid sitting for extended periods

  • Add support to your car seat

  • Keep your workouts varied

  • Add resistance & flexibility exercises in to your life

  • Come and see us at AJfitness for Yoga or Personal Training

As always, this blog is for information only, should you have any injuries, aches or pains, please contact us for a personal training consultation or referrals to our locally recommended Osteopaths, physiotherapists and or massage therapists, or contact your local doctor or specialist.

AJfitness - Love your body, for what it's capable of


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