Mobility Monday brings us to the all important Psoas (pronounced so-ass) muscle group . The Psoas is arguably the most important muscle in our bodies. It is one of the few muscles that connect our upper body to our lower body. It originates at our spine and goes south through the pelvis and attaches at our femur. There is a group on each side of the spine and subsequently each femur as well. The Psoas muscle group is broken up into the Psoas major, Psoas minor, and the Iliacus. If you have ever heard the term “deep core muscle”, this is it. These muscles not only help stabilize the spine but are also involved in hip flexion (think lifting your leg when you walk or run), and breathing regulation. When you bend or twist the Psoas group provides stability. So that’s what a Psoas muscle is, and what it does.
So why should I release this muscle group anyway?
The main reason to release this muscle group is because it can easily become overused, strained, and tight which leads to disfunction. Disfunction comes with discomfort and pain. If you have lower back pain or leg pain it’s likely that your Psoas is contributing to it by being chronically tight. On the other end of the spectrum, sitting is a huge culprit as to why this highly useful muscle group becomes dysfunctional. The Psoas becomes shortened with a consistently flexed hip and rounded spine, like when you sit at a computer. It effectively gets shut off for long periods of time and becomes weakened and shortened (tightened). This is not good. You can have restricted trunk and spine rotation, your hips could hurt when you walk, your back can hurt almost all the time (unless you get moving, but sometimes moving hurts too), and your posture will suffer as well. If this sounds familiar then have a look at the next part.
Like everything else I write about there are three things we need to do to solve lower back/leg pain when the Psoas is the culprit. 1. Release. 2. Activate. 3. Strengthen
Mobility Monday looks at #1, release.
When you know where the origin and insertion of the Psoas muscle is, it is actually easy to pin point the release points. I always encourage trigger point (muscle knot) release first, and then stretching after. If you stretch any muscle with a significant trigger point you can actually make it worse.
The tricky part with the Psoas muscle group is that is starts at the back of our bodies and flows through to the front. The best way is to actually release is from the front. With clients I use a variety of tools including specialized foam rollers, lacrosse balls, and more. If you lie on a foam roller with it located a few inches beside your belly button, between your ribs and hip bone, you will find your Psoas.
When I use the terms “origin” and “insertion”, it just means the start and end of where the muscle goes. This is important because this is usually where you find the most tension or trigger points. Use the bones as a guide and go close to them, but not on them, to find your sweet spots. Sweet spots aren’t really sweet at all, they hurt like hell but this is where you will find the most tension and therefor results.
The main part of releasing it comes after you have put the roller on your stomach. Because the Psoas is a deep core muscle it is buried underneath your abdominal wall. You really have to relax your stomach and do some deep breathing to find it. When you find it, trust me you can’t miss it. It can be pretty intense, especially if it is in a chronically tight state. If you feel a referral pattern to your lower back or hip, bingo! A referral pattern means that you have hit a nasty trigger point or potentially a nerve that runs under the muscle somewhere. It is actually quite a an interesting feeling when you have a roller on your stomach but you feel a pin point feeling of mild discomfort on your lower back. Don’t panic, its all good. It just simply means that the area you found has a dramatic impact on restricting your movement and comfort level (pain). It means that you found “the sweet spot”.
Performing trigger point release is a skill and it takes time and practise to get good at it. You need to be good at it in order to benefit from it. You can watch videos and read up about it but sometimes it takes a professional to show you. Location of the tool, breathing, relaxing the area you’re rolling, and how long to perform it for is key to success. This is what I coach clients on. How to identify what the issue is, what is feels like when it’s dysfunctional and most importantly how to get relief – using your own skill set. Once you know what it feels like to have a properly functioning body your awareness becomes one of the best tools you can have.
After you have released the trigger points to some extent you can then go ahead and stretch it. There are several ways to stretch the Psoas and if you use the fact that the origin is at the spine and the insertion is at the femur, you can use it to your benefit. Setting up a stretch to utilize the attachment points is crucial to get a full, deep stretch (with any muscle). I primarily use a hip flexor/psoas stretch pictured below. Again, there are several ways to stretch this area and with practise you can actually target specific areas of the front line using that specific stretch.
Traction is the last part of the equation. I consider traction to be advanced and probably the most effective way to help our bodies get relief. You can combine traction and stretching together to form a powerhouse release technique. These are skills that you will want to be taught by a professional.
When we release this area of our bodies the feeling can be significant in the relief department. It can free us from lower back pain, hip pain, and give us improved spine mobility. Our posture improves because we are not being pulled forward. There is a huge sense of body freedom and relief from general restriction. The best part is that every muscle north and south of the Psoas has a better chance of getting released if you work on those as well. Mobility works best when you start in the middle of our bodies and work up and down from there.
So there you have it, a pretty darn good case to release your Psoas muscle group. On Workout Wednesday we will dive into the activation and strengthening of this muscle group to have lasting results.