The psoas is one of the stranger named muscles in the body- the letter "p" is silent, and much like the piriformis, most folks think something is wrong with their psoas, but they don't know where it is and why it might be hurting. I had someone come in yesterday claiming their psoas was to blame for all their problems, which may or may not be true, but let’s take a look at what it does.
The psoas is your filet mignon, literally. On quadrapeds, it doesn't contact the pelvis en route to touching the femurs, and is very tender, lacking in fat. Your psoas has a much larger job, since you are bipedal. It co-creates your lumbar lordosis (see last week's post) along with your spine, attaches lower body to upper, and can play a big part of fight or flight in the autonomic nervous system. In addition, when we sit all the time, our psoas will adaptively shorten (AKA. shrink in response to mechanical input), which can affect the baseline position of the pelvis and spine.
If you've ever biked a lot, sat a lot, or done another seated activity and then felt like you couldn't stand up straight afterwards, you can blame it in part on the psoas. So what you can you do to realign?
-Stop wearing heels so often in standing and walking, since that misaligns the pelvis either to anterior or posterior pelvic tuck.
-Don't always sit in a chair to use your computer. Can you stand? Sit on the floor? Squat? Mix it up-the chair brings us to this constant position of a 90 degree hip flexion angle which isn't great.
-Replace some of your seated activities with activities that require hip extension, the opposing action of flexion. Walking (not on a treadmill, but real over ground) requires extension, cross country skiing, running...vs. cycling, treadmill movement, elliptical. For more on the consequences of treadmills, see Katy Bowman's blog.
-Have a movement professional take a look at how you stand and move and get an assessment on what’s going on.
-Learn about the emotional connection with the psoas and see how it relates to fight and flight. (Thanks to Barbara Loomis' awesome blog). Conversely, it can be easy to blame one muscle for all of our issues, when in fact our nervous system as a whole plays a HUGE role in our wellness and movement.
-Rather than just focusing on muscles, include the nervous system in your self care plan. That can mean stress reduction, massage, gentle movement activities, feldenkrais, and more. Although movement itself can help, sometimes just regrouping your whole body and down regulating, can help the body just as much.
-Maybe do LESS psoas and hip flexor stretching, and more strength work…what? Sometimes, especially in yoga-land, there’s an idea that if something is tight, it must be stretched. While a stretch can certainly be beneficial, we want to also gain strength in all ranges of motion, which will help our hips long term. Your hip flexors may be “short and tight” but they may also be WEAK, short and tight!
-Try this AWESOME psoas strengthening move. We don't necessarily just want to stretch the psoas- we want it to be strong and supple.