Okay so the time has finally come, the planets have aligned and I have decided to tap the keys!
For me this article is so simple, yet so complicated – THE PSOAS! My dreaded love hate relationship with a muscle group that most don’t know exists (unless you have stepped into Body Dynamics – EVER!)
Yes some may call it an obsession but really it is a passion for highlighting a rather obvious piece of information that really doesn’t seem to get the attention it demands.
In the following article I hope to highlight some key info about this amazing piece of Biology. Everything will NEVER fit into a short enough piece to keep your attention, but perhaps we can expand on the intricacies later!
So where to begin… At the beginning!
The word Psoas comes from the Greek word psoa meaning the “loin region.” Best described by your local butcher as the “tenderloin” or “filet”, this long slender muscle is actually part of a group of muscles referred to as Iliopsoas.
Iliopsoas is made up of Iliacus and Psoas Major. These are important hip flexors and lower back stabilizers.
The Psoas Major muscle is the deepest muscle of the human body affecting our structural balance, muscular integrity, flexibility, strength, range of motion, joint mobility, and organ functioning. It is the only muscle to connect the spine to the legs. It is responsible for holding us upright, and allows us to lift our legs in order to walk – Kind of important don’t you think?
Psoas Major is located deep to the abdominal contents and stretches from the Lumbar Vertebrae, underneath the inguinal ligament, to the Lesser Trochanter.
Psoas Major is involved in hip flexion, the lateral rotation of the hip, the flexion of the trunk toward the thigh and assisting in the lateral flexion of the Lumbar Spine. It is also involved in creating an anterior pelvic tilt.
Anatomy of Hip Flexors
The Iliacus is a stockier muscle, located deep to the abdomen in the iliac fossa. Its insertion like the Psoas Major is the Lesser Trochanter. The Iliacus is involved in hip flexion, lateral rotation of the hip, flexion of the trunk toward the thigh and creating an anterior pelvic tilt.
So what does this mean for us?
Well in short the Iliopsoas is engaged in almost all biomechanical function of the body. It forms part of a group of muscles called the hip flexors, whose action is primarily to lift the upper leg towards the body when the body is fixed or to pull the body towards the leg when the leg is fixed. The hip flexors are used when hiking, climbing or walking (particularly up an incline). During Sit Ups the action of bringing the torso away from the ground and up towards the leg is completed by the hip flexors (including the Iliopsoas).
The iliopsoas plays a vital role in the structural balance of the human body and as a result, is an integral part in sporting modalities such as gymnastics, horse riding, dancing and Calisthenics to name but a few.
Considering the wide range of sporting activities which engage the hip flexors, there is often too little emphasis placed on this major muscle group during strength training programmes.
Many athletes will be familiar with the agony and consequences of tight hip flexors and there is always a healthy debate around whether hip extensor/flexor imbalance is associated with the relatively high incidence of groin injury in many contact sports.
The modern day working environment requires many of us to spend long periods of time sitting – in the car, at our desk, in meetings, etc. Due to the anatomy of the hip flexors, the sitting position results in a shortening of these muscles. The problem is compounded by heavy usage of these muscles during exercise activities such as running and working out.
So what is the problem? Essentially, a shortened muscle is a weaker muscle. Weaker hip flexors can lead to structural imbalance and biomechanical dysfunction, potentially leading to many other problems throughout the body.
The Iliopsoas connects to the pelvis and the spine, therefore tightness in this group can result in unnatural curvature of the spine – a condition known as Hyperlordosis. This condition affects the distribution of forces throughout the spine, resulting in lower back pain. Other problems that may be experienced include tight lower back muscles, tight hamstrings and weakness in the abdominal muscles.
Aside from the biomechanical implications of a tight Iliopsoas, there may be physiological complications as well. A shortened Iliopsoas can reduce the available space within the abdominal cavity, constricting organs, putting pressure on nerves, interfering with fluid movement, and even affecting breathing. This can lead to physiological dysfunction such a nerve related conditions and digestive disorders.
What to do about it!
Well if you have stepped into Body Dynamics you may have been strongly (insert eyebrow raise here!) encouraged to join either a Yoga or Pilates class! The truth is dynamic stretching (stretching while in motion), is the most efficient way to lengthen and strengthen the hip flexor muscles and consequently the Iliopsoas group. This aids in the maintenance of healthy musculoskeletal alignment.
Body awareness and ergonomics are also important. The more aware you are of your habitual body patterns and the harder you work to change those that inhibit biomechanical function, the less susceptible you will be to these complications.
Body work, with a focus on the structural alignment of the body, will help to restore the state of symmetry. This will allow for better biomechanical and physiological function. As Bowen Practitioners, we address the body holistically (as a whole) and our modality strongly recognises the importance of symmetry, structural integrity, and optimal biomechanical function.