by Helen Mawson
In this article I share with you some information on the psoas muscle as it plays such an important role in supporting the balance and overall health of the body. I will also tell you what can happen when the muscle is out of balance and what you can do to help yourself.
Location of the psoas
The psoas (pronounced so-az) is a deep core muscle and is approximately 16 inches long, it directly links the ribcage and trunk with the legs. The muscle is located on either side of the body and most people have a psoas major and a psoas minor. The psoas minor is thought to be a disappearing muscle however as we have evolved from a semi flexed to an upright being. It is possible to have a psoas minor on one side, one on both sides or none at all!
The psoas does not attach directly to the pelvis but indirectly through its attachment to the iliacus muscle which lines the pelvic basin. The psoas and iliacus muscles are often spoken of together as the iliopsoas.
Function of the psoas
The muscle is basically a hip flexor and it supports the free swing of the leg in walking and plays an important role in transferring weight through the trunk into the legs and feet. More importantly it acts as a guide wire stabalising the entire spine. The psoas also acts like a shelf providing support for the organs and viscera. The health, length and vitality of the psoas effects organ function for example whether there is room within the pelvic bowl for the organs to rest comfortably and function normally depends on the length and tone of the psoas muscle. Lastly the psoas functions as a hydraulic pump its movement stimulates and pushes fluids in and out of cells. In normal walking the psoas muscle is activated in each step as it contracts and stretches. Its normal movement stimulates the viscera and massages the spinal column. The ability of the psoas to move freely encourages a continuous, unobstructed flow of blood through the major arteries into the legs and feet.
Situations that can effect Psoas balance
Pregnancy and childbirth – if the psoas is not fully engaged it will effect how a woman carries her baby. Structural imbalance during pregnancy and caused at the time of childbirth could cause the psoas to weaken.
Female cycles – women experiencing cramping and other pelvic problems could have an imbalanced psoas. Many woman have experienced significant relief by using techniques to release the psoas muscle so it can do it job easily and freely supporting rather than hindering the reproductive organs, nerves and ligaments.
Trauma – accidents of any kind can cause the psoas to contract and shorten, some people can feel the psoas contract for example in a car when you brake suddenly. More often than not the psoas will recover from things like the car braking suddenly but in more serious accidents some therapeutic intervention is necessary. Whiplash injuries often respond very well to psoas work.
Fear – when the fear reflex is activated the psoas will contract this has significant implications for the balance of the muscle and the impact stress can have upon it
Dehydration – this will cause the psoas muscle to shorten so staying hydrated is essential.
Exercise – certain types of exercise and activities tend to shorten and contract the psoas muscle these include; horse riding, cycling, abdominal crunches to name a few.
Results of psoas imbalance
Some of the problems that could arise as a result of a shortened psoas include;
- Structural problems
- Digestive problems
- Issues with the pelvis
- Hip problems
- Mobility issues
- Back problems
- Circulatory issues
- Balance problems
- Knee and ankle problems
- Respiratory issues
- Digestive problems
How you can help your psoas
Constructive rest position – is an exercise that encourages the psoas muscle to lengthen, it involves lying on the floor with your knees bent at a 45 degree angle. Put a towel under the upper half of your skull (not under your neck). Allow your arms to rest either side of your body. Resting in this position for 5 mins or longer will encourage the psoas to release and lengthen.
Keep hydrated – when we are dehydrated the psoas muscle will become shorter so keeping hydrated is essential. The body will use the hydration it has to send to the major organs and carry out its essential tasks. The muscular system tends to be lower down on the hydration priority list. If you experience regular muscle pain try drinking more water and see if this alleviates the pain.
Have a treatment – The Bowen Technique can address the psoas either directly by using the specific psoas procedure or indirectly by using the pelvic and kidney procedures. Sometimes working with the muscle indirectly is more suitable for an individual than directly applying the psoas procedure. This will vary for each individual in terms of what is being experienced and for how long the symptoms or imbalance have been present.