This little muscle with the strange name, that’s hidden deep under layers of muscle and viscera has been called by many the most vital muscle in the body; Yet almost none of my clients have even heard of the psoas, let alone have had it worked on.
While I take a very comprehensive stance on the function of the body, I think its a supremely important muscle to address, specifically when people are experiencing low back and hip pain – and also something I look into with my clients who suffer from anxiety or gastrointestinal distress.
Just like the rotator cuff, when I say “the psoas” I am talking about a group of muscles, not just one. There are thee ( or sometimes 2 as many people do not have the psoas minoris) muscles associated within the term Psoas; the majoris, minoris, and iliacus. Attaching your lower ribs, lumbar vertebrae, illium, and greater trochater of your femur, they are a group of flexor muscles that are responsible for shortening the junction of your hips, abdominals, and upper leg. So when you walk up a flight of stairs (correctly) you use your psoas. When you lift your legs at all you are using your psoas, and when you sit all day at work, your iliacus and psoas are shortened, and over time this can cause some serious issues with posture, lower lumbar viability, and even nerve impulse. Believe it or not, that forward head posture and shoulder pain that almost everyone experiences can in part, be alleviated by releasing tight psoas muscles.
But addressing the system is tricky. Within this group of muscles lies vital nerves that can become entrapped and aggravated which can lead to permanent damage and disorders. Because the psoas major is innervated by direct branches of the anterior rami of the lumbar plexus at the levels of L1-L3 and runs parallel to the vagus, while the iliacus is innervated by the femoral nerve which is composed of nerves from the anterior rami of L2-L4, manually manipulating this muscle correctly will alleviate while doing so incorrectly can exacerbate or even perpetuate nerve issues.
When I am dealing with the iliacus, which is situated on the anterior inferior iliac spine (AIIS) I address is in a number of positions, however any time I want to address the major psoas that is hidden deep within your abdomen, I always do so in a side-lying position. This alleviates the pressure on the vagal nerve and allows the viscera to drop away. It also allows for a healthy neurological relationship to this “bio-intelligent” muscle so as to avoid a biofeedback pattern of trauma in someone who is pinned down in a supine position. Remember that our neurological pain and stress receptors are intrinsically linked and when dealing with such vital nerve bundles it is important to be aware of the feedback it is sending and receiving. Because of this I also love doing assisted hip opening stretches and A.R.T. movements to create a dynamic softening. Once properly learned, these stretches can be done daily, on a break at work, before bed, or as a morning routine and they can change not only your physical symptoms but also your attitude, your stress levels, and even your GI functions.
I have touched upon the emotional aspects of the vital psoas but will save the in-depth conversation for another blog. If you think you might have a shortened psoas please come in and address your concerns with me or our lead therapists.