Psoas: Learn Your Muscles

psoasIf you only learn about one muscle, it should be the psoas. The psoas is a group of three muscles:  the psoas major, the psoas minor, and the iliacus. Psoas minor is not a significant mover in the group, and David Keil says it’s only present in half of the population. So, really we have the psoas major and iliacus.

However, people sometimes use the term iliopsoas. Iliopsoas can be used to refer to the section where the psoas and iliacus merge into one or it can be a term to generally refer to both muscles. These muscles are referred to with one name for a couple of reasons. First, their origin and insertion are at the same spots. Second, they both are hip flexors. For our purposes, I will be referring to the group of muscles as the psoas.

The psoas connects the upper half of our body to the lower half, it crosses nine joints, and it connects the back plain of our body to the front plain. We are able to stand upright because of its relationship with the piriformis. But this is not the extent of its work.

This muscle’s health impacts your movement, posture, balance, breath, mood, and confidence. In Psoas Release Party!Jonathan FitzGordon says,

“When the psoas is in an unhappy state, there are a host of physical conditions that can be connected to its issues–lower-back pain, hip pain, groin pain, bladder problems, constipation, poor circulation, leg-length discrepancy, scoliosis, bad menstrual cramps, and the list goes on and on.”

Additionally, the psoas is activated when we are in high stress situations. Whenever we are in a fight or flight situation, it works. It is what helps us curl into a ball to seek comfort and, because of this, it also has a reputation of being a muscle that stores emotions.

Of all the muscles in the body, I think this one has the most functions. Here is some more information about the psoas.

Location

The origin of the psoas major is on the transverse processes of all lumbar vertebrae (L1-L5), the bodies of the twelfth thoracic and all lumbar vertebrae (T12-L5), and the intervertebral discs above each lumbar vertebra. This means that the psoas major starts off the sides of your lower vertebrae and the discs between your lower vertebrae.

The iliacus originates on the superior two-thirds of the iliac fossa and the anterior ligaments of the lumbosacral and sacroiliac joints. This means that the origin of the iliacus is the inside top edge of your pelvis and also on the ligaments of the tailbone.

The psoas major and the iliacus insert on the lesser trochanter of the femur (thigh bone).

Function

Collectively, the psoas muscles are hip flexors. This means they lift the leg to the front of the body and move the torso toward the thigh. Also, they can externally rotate the hip joint and possibly assist in adduction.

Due to its location, the psoas is considered to be a core muscle. Think of it this way, you know you need a strong back and strong abs. The psoas is the tie that connects them together.

Common Dysfunction

When the psoas is working correctly, it acts like a rope on a pulley. Depending on what you’re moving, the pulley can be the femur or the pelvis. The psoas pulls, and the bone moves. However, when the psoas is in disfunction, it is like a guidewire for a tent. It is a constant force of tension. Now, it is a stabilizer instead of a mover. This can create many problems.

Psoas dysfunction may include:

  • back pain,
  • hip pain,
  • bladder problems,
  • constipation,
  • poor circulation,
  • leg-length discrepancy,
  • scoliosis,
  • bad menstrual cramps,
  • pubic bone instability or pain, and
  • inability to properly process emotions.

These are just the issues that already have scientific backing! Who knows what else will be discovered in the years to come!

Restoring or Maintaining Health

Due to its central location and connections to the torso and pelvis, it can be worked or stretched in almost all yoga and Pilates exercises. In my opinion, Pilates is hard on the psoas. I don’t recommend it as a way to get or keep the psoas healthy. Instead, I recommend yoga. I say this because yoga is what I use for my psoas therapy.

Any yoga poses that involve the first three chakras will impact the psoas. David Keil recommends exploring the psoas while doing Sun Salutations. Personally, I find great benefit when I make sure that my pelvis is in neutral while doing Crescent lunge and Warrior 1.

Whenever you’re sitting, make sure to soften your hip flexors. When you sit, you should not feel any grip! Try Dandasana with a focus on softening the front of the hips and reaching your head to the ceiling.

More Information on the Psoas

For more information, I recommend “The Psoas Muscle” by David Keil. He has a wonderful yoga anatomy book that I enjoy. That book is called Functional Anatomy of Yoga. Here is a link to buy it on Amazon. When you buy this book through this link, I earn a small commission.

Another book that I find helpful is The Concise Book of Muscles by Chris Jarmey. I used lots of information from his book while writing this post. The link I have provided is to an updated version of the book I have. It appears to be a very thorough update, although I have not personally looked through the whole book.

Although his book has more to do with the psoas, I also recommend Psoas Release Party! by Jonathan FitzGordon to get a better understanding of the relationship between the psoas and piriformis.

There is also an update out, but I haven’t had the chance to check it out yet.

What do you do to maintain psoas health? Let us know in the comments below.

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Sarah Stockett is STOTT certified in Matwork, Reformer, Cadillac, Chair, & Barrels, Injuries & Special Populations, and CORE; a Yoga Alliance RYT-200; and has studied Active Isolated Stretching. When she is not trying to discover the best exercises to get rid of pain, she likes watching movies and travelling with her family.

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