Often, a short psoas contributes to LB, hip or pelvic pain.
Where is it? What does it do? Why is the psoas so complicated?
Rolfing and the mystery of the psoas
Henry, a new patient complains of a shooting pain in his low back every time he rises from sitting. He states that it has been several weeks since the onset, and it has been getting worse. After walking around for a few moments it goes away. Henry asks us to explain what is wrong with his back. In fact, the problem is with his hip flexor muscle, not his back. We explain to him that often a short psoas contributes to low back, hip or pelvic pain.
The psoas is a core muscle. It lies deep within the body, directly in front of the spine. The psoas originates on the lumbar and thoracic vertebrae, travels the front of the spine and attaches on the inside of the thigh bone at a protuberance called the lesser trochanter. The psoas muscle joins with the iliacus muscle in the sides of the pelvis. Together these two muscles are called the iliopsoas and are hip flexors.
The psoas is has many roles:
- The psoas contracts, shortens and brings the knee upwards and forward as we walk.
- The psoas stretches/lengthens to allow the hip to extend when we walk and when we rise from a chair.
- The psoas helps to stabilize the spine, support the lumbar curve and support upright posture.
- The psoas helps to create span and length in the body.
This is a tricky but important concept. When the body is working well, it maintains length as we move. Fred Astaire’s grace was partly do to his ability to lengthen his body as he danced.
How does the psoas get into trouble?
The psoas can become chronically tight. Over time, chronic tension causes the myofascial span shortens. This can become a problem.
- A shortened psoas makes it difficult to rise from a chair. The pain Henry experienced is because his psoas muscle would not lengthen as he tried to extend his hip.
- A shortened psoas does not allow the hip to extend during walking.
- A shortened psoas makes it difficult to lie face down and extend the back. In yoga, the cobra pose becomes difficult or impossible. A contracted psoas contributes to the low back arching too far forward (hyperlordosis). This can create a pot belly.
- Additionally, myofascial shortening of the psoas reduces the height of the lumbar spine and reduces the span of waistline.
A shortened psoas affects not only appearance, but also the mechanics of the low back and the function of the abdominal organs.
Rolfing balances the tensions throughout the body and restores healthy function to the psoas. During a ten session Rolfing series the practitioner initially gains access to the psoas by working on the inner leg muscles (adductor muscles) which share an attachment with the psoas. By the fifth session the Rolfer addresses the imbalances within psoas muscle itself. With gentle pressure, the Rolfer coaxes it to lengthen and release it’s chronic stress.
A ten session series of Rolfing provides the Rolfer with the opportunity to first work on the superficial layers of connective tissue and later progress to the deeper layer of tissue within the body. A healthy psoas muscle with adequate span is vital to providing optimal span for the lumbar spine. In turn, this provides space and support for organs to function optimally.
We will be writing on number of articles on the psoas in the coming months. Next month: “Lifestyle tips for keeping the your psoas muscle healthy”.