Pigeon Pose

Do You Have Back Pain? It Could Be The Psoas Muscles.

Does your back feel painfully taut with limited mobility, or do you have aching and burning pain in your groin or front thigh? This could be due to taut Psoas Muscles. The so-what? The “So-as”. The psoas muscles extend from each side of the thoracic and lumbar vertebrae to the pelvis, joining here with its buddy, the Iliacus muscle, and then traveling down to insert on the upper leg, or the femur.

This major muscle group acts as a stabilizer to the lower spine and hip joints, and flexes the hip and lumbar spine. When you lift your knee to your chest, walk upstairs, run, bike, or perform sit ups, you are using the psoas muscles.

After my L5-S1 disc herniated, my hips kept rotating out of alignment and one leg became shorter than the other. From the herniated disc, my muscles went into spasms and tightened in a protective state. This included the psoas. These tight muscles were pulling my leg back into the hip socket, causing leg length discrepancy and even more back pain.

Pain, emotional and/or physical tension, back or abdominal surgery, scar tissue, repetitive motions like cycling can all tense the psoas muscles, causing reduced mobility and increased pain in the low back, pelvis, thigh, or knee area. It can also cause increased lumbar curvature (lordosis), irritable bowels. and even constipation. Think of how long the psoas is. It extends over many organs: the intestines, kidneys, liver, and spleen, to name a few. 

An imbalanced or tense psoas can also cause difficulty breathing, making it feel harder to get a full, complete breath. The psoas muscles are one group of muscles with which the diaphragm interlocks, as the diaphragm connects with the lower ribs. Both the psoas and the diaphragm influence core stabilization and proper breathing.

 

Because of its length, its position, and its importance in the body, this group of muscles can reek havoc when it is tight and shortened (or also when it is weak).

Ways To Make Your Psoas Muscles Happy Muscles.

 

1.  Take breaks from sitting. Sitting for prolonged periods of time can tighten the psoas.

2.  Strengthen other core muscles, such as your glutes/butt muscles, so the psoas muscles do not have to overwork. A great exercise is the glute bridge.

3.  Do not overdo crunches and do not have your feet held down when performing sit ups because it adds strain to the psoas. Too many crunches may tighten and shorten muscles and cause spinal compression. Instead, try a variety of abdominal exercises, including planks, squeezing a ball between the thighs, or other exercises where the pelvis remains neutral.

4.  Massage. Manual therapy can help release and lengthen the psoas. Massaging the psoas can be a little painful, but afterwards, it feels great.

5.  Place a pillow under your knees when sleeping on your back. Tight psoas muslces can pull on your back and cause it to arch, but a pillow under your knees will provide some slack to this muscle group and relax your back.

6.  Relax. When you feel stressed, your muscles tense. This also includes the psoas muscles. Imagine tense psoas muscles and how much territory in your body they cover. That creates a lot of tension throughout your abdomen, the core of your body, your back, your pelvis and hips, your legs, down to your knees.

If your psoas muscles are really tight and painful, start with these gentle psoas releases before moving on to yoga poses and stretches for the psoas and hip flexors. Lie down in these positions for five or more minutes while deeply breathing in and out, imaging the deep psoas muscles relaxing, letting go of tension. 

 

person laying on floor with knees bent and lower legs resting on chair

Rest your lower legs on a chair. Relax and breathe. Imagine your breath moving into and out from your deep psoas muscles, bringing them oxygen, relaxing them, and releasing tension from them and down into the floor.​

With bent knees, have knees rest into one another for support. Keep your back flat on the floor. For several minutes, breathe deeply, relaxing and imagining your psoas letting go of tension and lengthening.

Rest your lower leg on your opposite knee. This should feel effortless, not like your are holding up your leg. This position provides slack in your psoas muscles. Relax for several minutes, allowing time for your psoas to relax.

7.  Yoga and Stretching. If you do a lot of biking or running, which requires repetitive hip flexion, try adding in some more activities and stretches that deemphasize hip flexion and emphasize hip extension. Here are some stretches and yoga poses I find helpful to stretch out and lengthen my tight psoas muscles and other hip flexors.

Beginner to Psoas Stretch

Beginner: Lie down with back flat and bring knee to chest with other leg straight on floor.
Intermediate: Bring buttocks to side edge of bed or couch but maintain contact for support. Hang leg off side of bed or couch, with foot touching the ground for support. Do not over arch back. Advanced: Bring buttocks to end of bed or surface, but maintain glute contact on surface for support. Hang leg off of edge of surface without floor to support foot for greater stretch.
Hold stretch for 60 seconds or more. other leg.
* Keep back flat on surface. Do not over arch back.

Lunge

Keep your upper body straight, with your shoulders back. Always engage your core. Step forward with one leg, lowering your hips until knee bent at about a 90-degree angle. Rest hands on knee for support. Back leg should be in 90-degree angle, resting on the floor or straight and slightly internally rotate thigh. Squeeze glutes for added support. Hold 10 to 30 seconds. Repeat other side.

Pigeon Pose

Start on all fours in a table top position. Slide one knee forward toward your hand. Angle your knee to 11 o'clock for the left knee or 2 o'clock for the right knee.Do not overstrain. Slide your other leg back as far as comfortable while keeping your hips square to the floor and slightly internally rotate the thigh of the straightened leg. If your hips are not square, there will be unnecessary force on your back. Squeeze the glutes of this leg for support. Depending on how you feel, you will be upright on your hands while sinking the hips forward and down. To get full release in the hips, breathe and release the belly. Stay in this position anywhere from 10 to 30 seconds or longer. Repeat on other side.

Beginner to Advanced Cobra Pose

Lie down on your stomach. bend your elbows and put your hands flat on the ground even with your chest. Gently squeeze your glutes, then press down and raise your head and upper body, keeping your hips on the floor.
Beginner: Maintain close to a 90 degree bend in your elbows to not over extend your back. Do not look up and strain your neck. Advanced: Fully extend your arms. Hold this position for approximately 10 to 30 seconds

Note: Please do not perform stretches or exercises without first consulting with your doctor.

Source: Jones, Jo Ann. The Vital Psoas Muscle, Connecting Physical, Emotional, and Spiritual Well-Being. CA: North Atlantic Books. (201

spread the word

Woman sticking out her tongue and it is cracked and dry

Dry Mouth: Causes and Remedies

I remember a time when I would wake up every morning feeling like a just ate a bowl of cotton balls. Yuck! I had major dry mouth from pain meds. Muscle relaxants, pain, anti-seizure, sleep or antipsychotic medications all can cause dry mouth. It feels like one’s body is parched from a trip to the dessert without water. Besides its horrible sensation, dry mouth can cause sore gums, teeth sensitivity, and decreased joy and ability to eat certain foods.

Why do gums and teeth hurt from having a dry mouth?

Ongoing dry mouth creates an acidic mouth. Have you ever taken too much Vitamin C to prevent a cold only to find that at the end of the week you have sores in your mouth from the vitamin’s acidity? This is similar to what happens when your mouth is dry and acidity naturally builds. The drier your mouth, the more:

  1. porous and weak your teeth enamel may become
  2. nerves inside the teeth may become damaged and sensitive
  3. your gums may become “sick”

Dr. Phillips (2010) in Kiss Your Dentist Goodbye: A Do-It-Yourself Mouth Care System for Health, Clean Gums and Teeth compares the effects of an acidic, dry mouth to what happens when soaking an eggshell overnight in vinegar. It’s not pleasant. The hard, outer shell of the egg disintegrates into a soft shell that can be easily rubbed away with your fingers.

This is why it is so important to maintain healthy, alkaline saliva and mouth. Healthy saliva contain healthy minerals that:

  1. strengthen tooth enamel
  2. lubricate the teeth to prevent damage
  3. cleanse the teeth and gums from food build up

Besides medicine, what else can cause an acidic mouth?

1. What we put in our mouth.

  • Acidic citric, fruit juices, especially when refrigerated as compared to room temperature.
  • Soda
  • Coffee (yes, this is unfortunate)
  • Beer and wine
  • Tooth Whiteners
  • Sugar

2. Hormone changes during adolescence, pregnancy, menopause, and aging

3. Illness, fever, nasal congestion, asthma, mouth breathing when sleeping

4. Stress

Prevention: How can we create a more alkaline, neutral mouth?

Again, by what we put in our mouth.

  1. Vegetable juices high in minerals.
  2. * Water or Water infused with more alkaline foods, such as: coconut, cucumber, watermelon, mango, raspberries.
  3. Broth and Alkaline soups
  4. Diary Products
  5. Xylitol, a sugar substitute found in vegetables
  6. Gum made from xylitol
  7. Coconut Oil Pulling – swishing coconut oil in your mouth for 10 minutes. The theory is it detoxifies the mouth, heals gum inflammation, prevents cavities, soothes dry throat, and naturally whitens teeth.

Other dry mouth remedies:

  • ACT Total Care Dry Mouth Mouthwash
  • ACT Dry Mouth Lozenges
  • Alcohol Free Xylitol Mouthwash or Any other Alcohol-Free Mouthwash
  • Biotene Dry Mouth Oral Rinse
  • XyliMeltsoral-adhering discs that stick to your teeth or gums to relieve persistent dry mouth.
  • Xylitol Moisturizing Mouth Spray
  • Spry Xylitol Gum or  PUR Xylitol Gum –  sugar-free/Aspartame-free (Dr. Phillips states that this is a safe sugar substitute for people with diabetes) Xylitol also removes harmful bacteria that causes cavities.
  • Fluoride rinse
  • Toothpaste without baking soda, harsh abrasives, or teeth whitener 
  • Avoid breathing through your mouth, especially when sleeping at night
  • Use a humidifier in the room to increase moisture in the air
  • And, as always, water. It is important to stay hydrated.

 Mouth Care When Brushing Teeth

Dr. Phillips recommends a 3-step process of pre-rinse with an antiseptic mouthwash (or perhaps tea tree oil, as my friend uses), use a soft-bristled toothbrush, gently brushing gums and teeth, proper toothbrush care, and a fluoride after-rinse to help decrease acidity in the mouth, and increase health of gums and teeth. 

For more information, check out Better Bones’ blog for an alkaline food list and chart. You can also check out Amazon if you are interested in buying PH strips, books on Alkaline Diet, an Alkaline Food Chart, or any of the products mentioned above.

References

https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/dry-mouth/expert-answers/dry-mouth/faq-20058424.

Dr. Phillips, Ellie. Kiss Your Dentist Goodbye: A Do-It-Yourself Mouth Care System for Health, Clean Gums and Teeth. Austin, TX: Greenleaf Book Group Press, 2010.

Note: I have no affiliation of any kind with the products/companies mentioned in this blog post

Spread the word

picture of a stuffed brown dog on bed laying down

A Special Gift for Someone in Pain – A Confidant

picture of a stuffed brown dog on bed laying down

Two friends once gave me something I didn’t realize I needed. It was small, brown, and fluffy. Its eyes looked sad and longing, just as I felt that day. 

My friends, Reme and Sara, gave me a special gift, a stuffed animal. I remember them timidly standing at my feet, searching for words to say as they stared at me, weak, disheveled, and semiconscious in my hospital bed. Reme reached her arms out to me and handed me a soft, brown stuffed dog. I took the dog in my arms and then blacked out once again from pain. When I awoke, I saw long, fluffy ears resting on the coarse hospital bed sheets on top of me, and two eyes staring directly at me, silently asking, how are you? I really don’t know, I replied. It’s eyes stared at me as if waiting…expecting for me to divulge each and every word of fear, will power, hope, anxiety, and despair that comes when experiencing chronic pain.

I named my stuffed dog, Jakey, after my friend’s real dog, and it has never left my bed. Jakey is the only one that knows the extent of my physical, and thus, emotional pain throughout the years. He has seen me screaming in pain and blacking out in the hospital; he has allowed me to hold him so tightly he would suffocate if he were real. He spent endless days and nights silently listening to my fears, hopes, laughs, and cries, always looking at me with his big eyes as if saying, tell me more. Jakey, my confidant. I burdened him with all my tumultuous feelings and thoughts as I lay in bed day after day, year after year, in pain. And the nights I needed to be held, I held him.

I never thought such a simple gift could be so profound. What convinced my friends at that time to buy a stuffed animal for me, a 26-year-old, I will never know. I lost touch with them years ago, but their gift is forever with me. Their gift has filled a void within me throughout all my hospital stays and all the years that followed in which I felt misunderstood, angry, scared, confused, alone, and exhausted.

We all need someone–or something–to talk to; someone who listens to us without judgment, and sometimes, without a reaction or response; someone to whom we can tell everything without trying to leave out parts of our story. With Jakey, I never worried what he might think, if  he would suffer hearing my sufferings, or if he would think I complained too much or clung to irrational hopes and desires. Jakey was my journal.

It is 19 years later. I am 46-years-old now. Jakey’s resting place, night and day, is still in my bed. He holds all my memories, my trauma, my pain. He knows my despair. He knows my struggles. He knows my courage and story of recovery, and my flare ups. He knows me better than anyone else. He knows my truths.

My six-year-old daughter knows Jakey. She is thrilled that I share a love for stuffed animals as she does. She giggles and kisses Jakey on the special nights I give him to her, and she gives me one of her stuffed animals to sleep with in return. When she is sick or having a bad day, I tuck Jakey in her arms. Jakey is healing.

 My daughter is too young to understand my experiences with pain and the meaning behind my love for my one, special stuffed dog, but when I see her talk to her stuffed animals, repeatedly hugging them so tightly that the stuffing thins, dragging them everywhere with her until the material starts ripping, and pouting when she can’t take one or two or three into the store with her, I think, perhaps a part of her does understand.

Sometimes the best gift that says “I care” is something as simple as a stuffed animal. It is something that we can cling to knowing that we are never as alone as we may think. Behind that stuffed animal is the person who unexpectedly gave it to us.