This mighty muscle, lying at the very core of your physical body, has a profound influence upon our well-being.
The psoas is the most important muscle in the body for 3 reasons:
- It brought us up to stand. The lumbar curve was created when we came to stand upright by the psoas.
- The walking muscle. It is the muscle responsible for propelling you forward. There are a lot of muscles helping it, but essentially walking is falling, and falling is all about your psoas. A healthy psoas provides a suspension bridge between trunk and legs. The psoas responds to every movement of the spine. Ideally the psoas guides rather than bears the transfer of weight from the one (trunk) into the two (legs).
- It’s a muscle of trauma. This is the muscle in your body wherein you’re storing your emotions. When feeling threatened it is your psoas muscle that propels you into fleeing or fighting or curls you into a protective ball.
Everything from the chairs we sit in to the shoes we wear can curtail the natural movement of the psoas. Having a constricted psoas might be traced back to your first shoe. Wearing a shoe that shapes the foot, stops bones from rolling, limits ankle mobility, drops the heel behind or shifts the weight onto the toes can and does affect skeletal balance. It can stifle the vitality of your psoas.
Premature standing and walking (before the bones are fully formed and weight bearing) teaches a child to rely on their psoas muscle for structural support. Playpens and walkers encourage early standing and limits crawling, which is so important for kinaesthetic maturation. Plastic baby holders restrain and limit natural movement, rhythm and the protective give and take of a mother’s supple body.
The Effects/Symptoms of a Shortened Psoas
- Pain with prolonged standing, or standing while leaning forward (doing dishes), pain on rising to stand after sitting, especially when you are leaning forward (computer use or bleacher sitting), and lying flat on your back with the legs flat
- Constricted organs
- Impinged nerves
- Impaired diaphragmatic breathing
- Putting pressure on the uterus, a tense or short psoas can cause cramping
- Pushing the oesophagus forwards, a tight upper psoas can cause digestive problems
- A short psoas can interfere with the diaphragm fully descending through the abdominal core
Psoas as ‘The’ Core Muscle
See the Psoas as a support. It is the length and vitality of the psoas that helps to maintain volume in the core. Providing a diagonal muscular shelf, the psoas moves through the core supporting the abdominal organs. A major ganglion of nerves is located on top, around and imbedded through the psoas. Together with the diaphragm, the action of the psoas works like a hydraulic pump to massage the organs and viscera while stimulating the flow of fluids throughout the body.
The keystone of skeletal alignment, it is the balanced pelvis that provides a base of support for the spine, ribcage, neck and head. It is the aligned pelvis that transfers weight down through the hip sockets, legs, knees and feet. If the bones do not support and transfer weight properly, it is the psoas muscle that is called upon to provide structural support, making it tight & weak.
In addition to the psoas being tight, it is also typically weak at the same time. This creates dysfunction in the muscle. Our brain has trouble controlling the muscle because it has been in a shortened position for so long, thinking the psoas always needs to be flexed.
True core strength then, depends upon core integrity. Unlike other muscles, the Psoas does not need strengthening, but rather nourishing. The ‘weak’ Psoas muscle is really a dry, exhausted, Psoas; abused, over-used and too often misused.
Test your Psoas
- Constructive Rest is an easy position for releasing tension in your psoas muscle. After work and before your evening meal take 10 – 20 minutes to rest in constructive rest and feel the benefits. Begin by resting on your back. Knees bent and feet placed parallel to each other, the width apart of the front of your hip sockets. Place your heels approximately 12-16 inches away from your buttocks. Keep the trunk and head parallel with the floor. If not parallel place a folded, flat towel under your head. DO NOT push your lower back to the floor or tuck your pelvis under in an attempt to flatten the spine. For best results keep the arms below the shoulder height letting them rest over the ribcage, to the sides of your body or on your belly. There is nothing to do; constructive rest is a BEING position. In this simple position gravity releases the psoas and you’ll feel more at peace with your self and the world.
- Psoas Strength Test
(Modified Sahrmann’s Test (3))
Here is a general way to determine if your psoas is weak:
- Standing, grab and pull your knee to your chest as high as you can without leaning backward. You will need to get your thigh well past 90° (in relation to your supporting leg).
- Once your knee is close to your chest, release your hands and attempt to keep your leg above 90 degrees for 15 seconds.
- Start timing when you release your hands and stop when your thigh drops below 90° (make sure to use a clock on the wall).
If you fail before 15 seconds then you have a weak psoas muscle. Any major body shifts, leans, cramping, or loss of control in the allotted time also results in a failed test. Failure far before 15 seconds shows further weakness. For best accuracy have a fitness professional conduct your test.
For more on Psoas muscle & its conditioning, check out:
Thus working with the Psoas challenges the standard precept of core strength. To really achieve core strength you must first regain a supple, responsive and fluid core so that rich bio-intelligent messages from the central nervous system can foster healthy neuromuscular and skeletal relationships.