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

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