Psoas – The Most Vital Muscle In Our Body
Why Is This Muscle So Important?
Which muscle are we talking about? If you hadn’t already guessed, it’s the Psoas. If you read the title wrong or don’t know how it’s pronounced, the correct way of saying this is ‘SO-as’.
So, why is the Psoas so important anyway? Let’s explain and give you an introduction to what it’s all about.
What Does The Psoas Do?
The Psoas (commonly known as the hip flexors) plays a role in nearly all of our everyday movements from getting out of bed, to bending over, to walking and running – this is because it is the main connection between your body, to your legs. It is one of the deepest core muscles and it attaches from the 12th vertebrae of the thoracic spine, runs down to the 5th lumbar vertebrae, continues through the pelvis, and then attaches to the thigh bones.
The Psoas muscles help to flex your trunk and also to lift your legs, during other movements they assist in stabilizing the spine and contribute towards your posture. It is the only muscle group that attaches from the spine to the legs. The Psoas is also attached to your diaphragm via fascia so there is a direct relation between your breathing and movement, and how it is controlled. The Psoas may be under contraction for long periods of time; during stressful times, long periods of sitting, repetitive episodes of running, and flexed activities such as sleeping in a foetal position or working in a poor posture at a desk. Any activity which excessively compresses the hips can cause pain in the Psoas region to develop.
Do I Have Psoas Pain?
Let’s find out - look at some of these common signs and symptoms to see if you may be getting pain developing in your Psoas.
- Altered breathing – there is a possibility if you have become more of an upper body breather, for example using your chest to breathe rather than your diaphragm it may be due to a poorly performing Psoas.
- Postural Dysfunction – if you have tightness in your mid-section it can cause the Psoas to pull tight and affect your posture. This may result in an increased anterior (forward) tilt of your pelvis or a hunched back and weakness within the hamstrings.
- Knee and lower back pain – because the Psoas connects the trunk to the femur, if you have any dysfunction from a weakness or shortening of these muscles, then it can have a direct effect on how the knees function and the lower back. It may not be the sole cause of your back pain, but it may be contributing to it.
- Leg Length Discrepancy – changes in your leg length may occur overtime if Psoas tightness causes a pelvic dysfunction. The Psoas may cause changes to the pelvis such as an anterior tilt and also cause internal rotation. It may just be a small difference, but if not addressed over time this can cause the femur to impact unevenly in the socket of your hip on one side, leading to leg length changes and even hip discomfort.
What Can I Do To Keep My Psoas In Top Condition?
It’s not rocket science, and you may even be doing a lot of these things already! The message I want to get over today is that your lower back and pelvic health is all about balance; in the postures you choose, activities you do and how you help to maintain a healthy body.
Here are some DO NOT’s which you should be avoiding:
- Try not to sit for long periods – think about the types of seats you sit on and try to avoid slouching. This puts the lower back and pelvis in poor positions and if this is a repeated habit, you’ll start to acquire a poor posture, which can lead to changes in the Psoas as well as placing strain on the lower back.
- Excessive/Extreme Exercise – I’m not advising against lots of exercise but more a word of warning about how you approach excessive amounts of exercise and the intensity you perform it at. Sudden changes in your training load to excess amounts can place the mid-section under strain. Extreme exercise such as ultra-marathons, power walking or even doing lots of the same exercise (such as sit ups) can be problematic if you do not progressively train your body to deal with the amount of load being placed on it. All of these things can lead to an unhappy Psoas if you do not manage the intensity, load and frequency of your sessions correctly.
- Don’t get stressed – easier said than done right? As humans, we hold stress and tension in different places, but it can be quite common to feel tense in the neck and shoulders. As discussed previously, breathing patterns affect the Psoas due to its connection to the diaphragm. Being tense, not breathing properly, and holding tension can all contribute towards poor movement. You may notice changes in your pelvic position if it is tilting forward or back.
Here are the things YOU SHOULD be doing!
- Structure your exercise - Remember to plan proper rest days, vary your activity, and always build up and increase gradually towards your goals. This leads to less stress on your body and allows your body to adapt over time and not become overloaded.
- Use supportive seating – if you have to sit for long periods then think about the quality of seat you are in. Make sure you have a lumbar support built into the seat and more importantly, change your position often!
- Get a sports massage – direct massage to the Psoas is not comfortable in any way due to the deep location of this muscle, however, sports massage to the surrounding areas can help to benefit the lower back and mid-section of the body. If you think you have a problem with your Psoas then seeking help from a sports massage practitioner can help to identify this.
- Maintenance Exercise – exercises which promote mobility with resistance are great ways to make your Psoas and lower back a more robust area! Consider such exercises as yoga, Pilates and eccentric loading exercises to help keep your body healthy. We have included some examples below of exercises you can try at home.