There are many authoritative books and articles claiming that the psoas is possibly the most important muscle in the body. Interestingly every time I do a kinesiology muscle test using the psoas, on anyone, it shows either under facilitation or over facilitation (which is a possible weakness or/and tightness). Why does this keep happening? What is the psoas? Why the focus on it? How is it related to the adrenals, back pain and menstrual pain? Exploring some of the causes of a tight, short, weak psoas, such as storing of emotions, sitting and standing positions and what can we do to heal it and bring it back to health?
What is the psoas?
The psoas is a muscle. We learn that the psoas primarily flexes the hip (which is a knee lift, bringing the bottom of the psoas closer to the top of the psoas, however, there is interesting debate on whether it does this or not, stating that instead of flexing it stays in the bowl of the pelvis and lengthens when we walk, that’s it). It also flexes the spinal column (forward bending over). It is about 40 centimeters long. It is one of the largest and thickest muscles of the body. It begins at the 12th thoracic vertebrae (mid back) and connects to all the vertebral bodies of all the lumbar vertebrae (low back). The lower part curves over the pubic bone and inserts into the less trochanter (on top of the thigh bone).
Why the focus on it?
Firstly, without the psoas muscle we could not stand. When we stand up, the psoas pulls the lower back (lumbar) forward and creates the curve. Secondly, it is used during walking, Thirdly, in sitting it stabilizes and balances the trunk. Fourthly, it often relates to back pain, adrenals, menstrual pain and the storing of emotions such as trauma and fear.
Frequently a tight, long, short, and/or weak psoas muscle is what causes back and hip pain. The psoas has been linked to sacroiliac pain, disc problems, spondylolysis, scoliosis, hip degeneration, knee pain, menstrual pain, infertility and digestive problems.
The menstrual cycle is influenced by the health of the psoas. A dry, tight psoas could mean more menstrual cramps. A healthy psoas provides structural support for correct placement of the reproductive organs and circulation. The ovaries, which can double in size during ovulation, sit very close to the psoas, the genitofemoral nerve (see in the image above) passes downwards and emerges from the anterior surface of the psoas. If the uterus is tipped back and the psoas is shortened it irritates the nerve and can cause pain in even the thighs and knees.
Storing of emotions
Emotions can have an affect on the psoas. The psoas responds to the fight, flight or freeze survival response. This muscle is required to fight and/or flee from danger. If we are under stress, and you cannot fight or flee, (for example sitting for long periods dealing with deadlines at work), the psoas is still in its ready to move state, and when there is no follow through, the muscle can chronically shorten and/or weaken.
Anatomically the Psoas supports kidney and adrenal health. The adrenals are directly related to the fight or flight response and modulate some of the hormones associated with stress.
Trauma effects the integrity of the psoas. For example, if we are traumatized, scared or fearful, if we go into a curled up position. Depending on the intensity of the trauma or the longevity, the psoas also paralyzes.
What is the cause of the psoas losing it’s functionality?
- Poor posture;
- Prolonged sitting;
- Tucked in pelvis; and/or
- Emotional stress (as mentioned above).
Our bodies are not meant to sit for long periods, they are also not meant to wear restrictive shoes with high heels, sit in couches creating a C shaped pelvis or stand in chronic pelvic tucking positions (see image below for posterior tucked pelvis)
When our pelvis is tucked the psoas is not working functionally, it is displaced. Most people tuck their pelvis, it is much more rare to see the angle of the pelvis towards the other direction.
Largely, the psoas will stay contracted because of postural habits and emotional stress or trauma and effect many other muscles.
What can we do to have a healthy psoas?
- Wear flat shoes as often as possible, it is not possible to get your pelvis into a healthy position in heeled shoes.
- Start to push your butt out more often then not. Get it off the hamstring muscles and un-tuck the pelvis during sitting, walking, lifting and standing.
- Recharge every night by going to sleep by 10 pm, sleep time is super important for adrenal function, elimination of toxins, liver, kidney function and repair of the body.
- Take care of your body by eating nutrient rich foods. (this is a big subject, I won’t cover it here)
- Learn to release the psoas.
Releasing the psoas
Rest on the floor, hard flat surface, on your back, legs straight. Focus on the psoas. Do nothing else. No reading. No speaking. Focus on relaxing your pelvis. 5 minutes, every day.
After approximately one to two weeks, progress to lying on a foam roller underneath your lower back with knees bent. 1-5 minutes. Your lower back may get sore doing this. When you can lie for 5 minutes without feeling any pain in your lower back and even feeling your psoas releasing and sretching by letting your hips relax downwards, then progress to step 3.
Lying on foam roller with legs straight. 1-5 minutes, progress slowly.
Do nothing while your resting other than focusing on relaxing your psoas.
Here is a link to show an example of a foam roller.
These are some of the early stages of connecting with and releasing the psoas. Just doing these have amazing benefits to the health of our body and possibly to the health of our mind and emotions.