Psoas: The most important muscle you’ve probably never heard of ….

11 June 2019

Psoas: The most important muscle you’ve probably never heard of ….

person_outlineAndrew Graham
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Psoas Stretch

The psoas or Iliopsoas muscle, to give it its full name, is a muscle that lies deep within the abdomen. It is the major link between the upper thorax and the lower body and becomes chronically overworked, weak and tight through long periods of sitting at work.  This can, in turn cause, amongst other things, lower back pain.  It can also affect your digestion and organ function and can even affect your breathing. So, it’s about time we should show some care to this over-worked and misused hero and start showing it some love.

You probably don’t need to know the exact attachments of the psoas, but to give you a general idea, its attaches from the front surface of the Lumbar spine (and the discs) and then joins with Iliacus (hence the name Iliopsoas), inserting onto the femur.  It allows us to raise our knees towards our chest and is particularly active when the knee is raised above the level of the hip (think high knees when running on the spot).

To assess your own psoas, you can feel it (indirectly) when you are lying down:

  1. Start on your back on the floor with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor.  
  2. Now find a spot in your abdomen about half way between your “hip point’ and your belly button.  
  3. Apply some reasonably firm pressure (it might be easier to get someone else to do this). 
  4. Is it tender on one side more than the other?   If it is, then that can indicate to a weakness and shortening to that Psoas.  

There are other tests that can point towards tightness in this muscle, but this is a good place to start.

It’s understandable, therefore, when I mentioned earlier that the Psoas originates from the vertebrae and the discs, that tightness in this muscle can then cause tension and pain into the back.  So how do we do something about this?

Constructive rest position or Psoas position

This is a very comfortable position and you can stay here for 5 minutes up to 30 minutes or beyond.  Simply lie on your back on the floor with your knees bent and feet planted. Practice flattening your spine towards the floor.  Take slow, deep breaths through the nose and focus on the muscle and trying to relax it. If your legs begin to shake and become tired you could raise your legs so that your calf muscles are resting on a chair, with your hips at 90 degrees.

Psoas strenthening

Activating this muscle is a great idea with isometric (static pushing exercises). Begin by standing on one leg with the hip above 90 degrees.  Get your balance and then place your hands on the raised knee.  Think about engaging your Psoas as you try to further raise your knee against the resistance of your hands. Hold for about 10 seconds and repeat on the other side.

Glute Bridges

Whilst not a direct Psoas exercise, Glute activation exercises will relax the Psoas through reciprocal inhibition.  This is the idea that when one muscle contracts the opposite (antagonistic) muscle has to relax. So a great exercise is the Glute bridge.  To do this, again lie on the floor with the feet flat.  Push through the heels so that you raise your pelvis off the floor. When your shoulders, hips and knees are in line, actively squeeze the glute muscles together for 5 seconds then slowly lower back down.  Repeat this 15-20 times.

There are many more ways to keep Psoas in good working order.  If you are suffering with lower back stiffness or pain from sitting at your desk, please contact one of our Osteopaths to arrange a treatment and examination.

Andrew Graham

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