If you’ve never heard of the psoas muscle (pronounced SO-AS), it’s your lucky day—PREPARE TO BE INFORMED!!!
This delicious looking muscle is the ONLY one in your body that connects your spine to your legs so it’s super important for core control and walking. It also affects your posture via it’s influence on the lumbar spine. If you’re picky, it’s actually two muscles (psoas major + psoas minor), but I’ll be referring to them as a unit in this post.
In the picture below you can see that this muscle attaches from the lumbar region of the spine down to the femur. Psoas also interacts with the diaphragm and adjacent organs via fascial connections. Because of it’s attachment points, this muscle stabilizes the spine, bends the hips, bends the trunk, and impacts breathing.
Connective tissues link the diaphragm to the psoas. Because of this, dysfunction in one affects the other and vice versa (just as health in one encourages health in the other). For example, if the psoas is tight, it restricts diaphragmatic movement resulting in more shallow, “chest breathing" (versus "belly breathing”). Chest breathing is less efficient, can create tension in the neck and jaw, and brings in less oxygen (which often causes feelings of fatigue).
If the psoas muscle is too tight (most people fall into this category), this causes one or more of the following:
Increased lumbar lordosis aka “duck butt”
Pain in low back, bottom, hips, or knees
Inner thigh cramping with activity
A chronically tight psoas activates the sympathetic nervous system by making the brain think that you’re in danger (this is true of many chronically tight muscles); this can overwork the adrenal glands and impair the immune system.
Leg length discrepancy
If your physical therapist or chiropractor tells you that one leg is longer than the other, have them work on your psoas for several sessions before resorting to a heel lift or shoe insert to correct the difference in leg length.
If the psoas muscle is too weak/overstretched, this causes one or more of the following:
Decreased lumbar lordosis aka “flat butt”
Instability in the low back and hips
Pain in the low back, bottom, hips or knees
If psoas is too tight…
Some people spend too much time on activities and exercises that promote hip and trunk flexion, such as:
You can avoid excessive tightness in the psoas by NOT overdoing these types of activities
Balance out the above activities by incorporating exercises that promote hip and trunk extension (since most of us spend a lot of time in trunk/hip flexion), such as:
Yoga poses (Bridge, Warrior, Pigeon, Plank, Cobra, Belly-down boat, Fish)
Hip flexor stretch
Take standing breaks (if you’re sitting most of the day)
Deep breathing for 5-10 min (to create a softening and relaxation of the muscle )
Massage (from yourself, your partner, or a professional; psoas is deep so it may feel awkward and uncomfortable at first—don’t give up!)
If psoas is too weak/overstretched…
Core stabilization exercises
Walking and/or running
Intention and visualization (imagine your body becoming stronger and healthier with the muscles around your back, hips, and abdomen stabilizing to better support your spine)
Boom! Better posture, better breathing, better life.