So let’s break down WHAT the psoas is. First off there is TWO parts; psoas major and psoas minor. FUN fact 60% of people are actually MISSING the psoas minor. It’s a weak flexor of the hip so you can still become an NBA all star without one. The psoas major is typically referred to as the “illopsoas” , as it blends and works with the illacus to be a strong flexor of the thigh at the hip. These two muscles also help to flex our trunk when the femur is fixed; or in a less fancy way to say, it helps up sit up straight when sitting in a chair! Flexion is any motion that decreases the angle between the bones that converge on the joint. So hip flexion would be anytime the hip joint moves closer to the trunk of the body.
So what’s all the buzz about the psoas and why should we care if it’s tight? Let’s look at WHERE the psoas is in the body. It originates in our lower back from our T-12 all the way down to our L5. This area is also referred to as our TL junction, which means thoracic lumbar junction. Our spine is broken down into 5 major sections; cervical (neck), thoracic (the majority of our back/mid back), lumbar (low back), sacral and coccyx (tail bone). Our cervical spine has 7 vertebrae, our thoracic 12, and lumbar has 5 + a fusion of 5 bones that creates 1 referred to as the sacrum, and our coccygeal region which also has 3-5 fused bones. In total we have 24 of what we call presacral vertebrae, which is what allows movement.
So our psoas STARTS from 6 different vertebrae, all in which allow movement, hinging, rotation, and allow us to weight bear without falling over. If we follow the psoas from its start on the transverse processes along the spine, we will find it inserts and connects into what is called our lesser trochanter. Our lesser trochanter is a small protuberance, or “bump” , that sticks out on our femur or thigh bone. This is also where the iliacus inserts and shares the attachment with the psoas; hence why they tend to be grouped together as one functioning muscle.
But what does this actually in the heck mean for us and our motion?! We understand the psoas starts on our spine and finishes on the upper thigh. That’s hard to even envision, but let’s try. Imagine a rubber band cut, so now it is one long stretchy string. Place the start of the rubber band at our TL junction or mid/low back. Now run this down the spine, wrap around your hip, through your legs and then attach it to the top of the thigh bone just under our groin area. THAT is the route of the psoas. Keep that imaginary rubber band attached. Now do some motion; hinge forward, bend side to side. How does the band pull? Is it only affected if you use that side? What happens to it if you move your other side? As one leg hinges and bends and does flexion, that same side spine shortens, which pulls on the other sides’ psoas. It is a constant balancing act! Since we already established the psoas flexes the thigh at the hip, we can now imagine all of the motion that would be; bending forward, walking, bringing the knee towards our chest, squatting, sitting in a chair, and all of the compound motion we can create with these baseline movements. Due to all the movements this muscle can create, it becomes evident that although this is an anterior or front side body muscle, it can be a big culprit of low back pain and even groin pain, which can radiate or travel again, to the low back.
The complexity of the body is endless, and there is so much more to hip flexion then just the psoas, BUT understanding the importance of such an intricate muscle will help us have more awareness in our motion. Establishing healthy and balanced psoas muscles will lead us to better movement and balanced function. It is a muscle that doesn’t just control a motion on one side, but can dictate the balance and control on the other side. It is also important to note, that although doing some active release prior to exercise is beneficial, attempting muscular changes such as deep stretching, massage , foam rolling or other attempts of myofascial release will change proprioception and muscular tension. And because of these changes it can potentially be dangerous to do exercise immediately after, so it is recommended that these more intense approaches are done AFTER exercise or hours prior to.
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Master massage therapist, ex-athlete, food lover, dog mom, and knowledge connoisseur, wants to share as much knowledge in a fun easy to read way! Tune in monthly to read her new health and wellness articles. Want to suggest a topic? AWESOME! email her :) Adriana@FlexationMassage.com