A few weeks ago, I taught a Yoga Tune Up® class that focused on the psoas.
I started by educating my students on the very basic anatomy of this deep gut muscle. All across the room I begin to witness complete silence. I guess most of the students have not connected to their p-s-o-a-s in a very long time.
The psoas, also known as a primary hip flexor and ‘’13th Organ,’’ originates at the transverse processes of last thoracic and 5 lumbar vertebrae (T12-L5), bisects through deep inside of the gut and attaches at the inner femur (thigh bone). This is a very unique muscle that both flexes and laterally rotates the hip, and is one of the major muscles responsible for walking.
The lower portion of the psoas intertwines with the fibers of the iliacus, and together they form a muscle group known as iliopsoas.
The psoas also affects the structure of our upper body. It originates at T12 which is a major attachment site for the trapezius muscle. Through this junction the psoas can send forces into the upper body and directly affects the level of shoulder flexion (reaching your arm above your head).
In addition, the most important role of the psoas is the muscular support it provides for the lumbar plexus, a network of nerves which originate in the spinal cord and impact the wellbeing of the body’s digestion and elimination systems. Unlike muscles such as the hamstrings, which you can feel immediately due to their nerve endings informing us when they’re being worked, the psoas is much more challenging to propriocept (sense and feel). This is because it’s situated deep within the body behind the abdominal organs. It is the deepest and largest core muscle of the body.
In a nutshell-the health & vitality of our psoas affects the health of our entire body.
WHAT MAKES THE PSOAS TIGHT AND RESTRICTED?
Most of us tend to weaken our psoas just by living in today’s busy world. Prolonged hours of sitting,running, cycling or any repetitive movement which involves lot of hip flexion would create imbalances within the psoas tissues.
Other psoas pain causes and areas of concern:
BAD SHOE CHOICES
EMOTIONAL & PHYSICAL INJURIES
Come back for part 2 of this article on Friday (and then read how you can re-balance your psoas from inside-out).
Discover the Yoga Tune Up At Home Program
Learn about the pain relief solutions for your hips
Watch the QuickFix Online Hips Video
Looking forward to working on the psoas and focusing on changes in digestion. TY
Sigh. This fraction of an insight from 2013 could’ve been helpful if it was wrapped in a teaser requiring me to dig around the internet for the rest of the story in 2020. I’ve recently come to the awareness that some of my physical issues coul be resolved if I had a better understanding of the relationship between the posts and the trapezius. And your linking it to shoulders is creating curiosity.
Interesting that you point out the muscular connection of psoas with our shoulders and digestive system. We can even better understand this interrelation with the recent discoveries related to fascial bands
Interesting to point out the muscular connection of psoas to shoulder and digestive system. We can even better understand this interconnection now with recent discoveries about fascial bands
Wow! I knew the Psoas was deeply connected, but had no idea it could directly influence your shoulders! This was very informative and I clearly need to learn how to re-balance my psoas after all my hours commuting.
Wow. I have had a popping hip since I was 18 years old, (which is a sign of psoas dysfunction, if I understand correctly). As an aerialist for 10 years/climber for 30 years I have struggled with problems in the contralateral shoulder. Despite years of physical therapy, I have never had anyone link the dysfunction in my shoulder to my psoas issues. I am super interested to see whether I can alleviate some of my shoulder problems with some love to my psoas. Thanks for helping me learn more about this connection.
Such great in take on how the psoas can affect the upper traps and shoulders, and how it can stop us from being mobile in parts of our bodies.
It’s so interesting that the psoas can effect flexion in the shoulders. You wouldn’t know looking it a muscular skeleton that the impact of the muscle spans so far. Thank you for this!
Okay, this is a great article, that said, i have some confusion. I do not see in my anatomy book the origin of Psoas being T12? i always learned- it originates from L1-L5. please clarify? i am not suggesting anybody is wrong here! i’m just confused…
I never knew about the connection between the psoas and the trapezius! (But it makes so much sense now, how tightness in the two is related.) Thanks for the educational intro.
Merci pour ces pertinentes informations. Ce muscles, qui semble si anodin, a des fonctions bien au-delà que ce que la plupart croit. Sa relation avec le bas du dos m’était connue, tout comme l’effet sur les organes internes, notamment la digestion. Mais il m’est tout à fait logique d’apprendre le lien du psoas avec l’articulation de l’épaule et les capacités respiratoires.
I’ve only recently, in the past few years, began to learn the intricacies of the psoas. My particular fascination with it is its relationship to digestion. Through fascial connections with the intestines, a tight psoas can tug on and restrict peristalsis through the digestive system. It makes perfect sense that it become right through emotional imbalances because of the biochemical communication between gut and psoas.
I was having some low back pain and nothing was working. Then I realized that the psoas can sometimes be a cause of it so I started rolling it out and within a couple days my low back pain was gone. I didn’t know about the connection it had with the upper body though.
Didn’t know it’s effect on shoulder flexion. This opened up a lot of knowledge to me. Thank you.
On the psoas and it’s relevance to other muscles: I have recently been reminded that the psoas also connects near its origin with the diaphragm. So a tight psoas will also impede your breathing by tudgging on the diaphram duing inhalation. Every active people and athletes would find this a problem if they cannot access their full inhalation breath! and your overall feeling of well being will be compromised if you are not breathing properly. Love this discovery!
I have suffered from a tight Psoas from years of sitting. The Courageous Ball was a welcome addition the mobility, It provides not only release for my psoas and core but also global shear, avoiding matted down tissues.
We saw a DVD clip today and saw the psoas muscle on a dead body. Peeled all the connective tissue and saw how deep it was and it was larger than I thought. It is right below the QL and when one is not working right it impacts the other muscle. Also, breathing can be impacted by a psoas that is not working. It was very interesting to me, as this discussion of the psoas and the connection to the work lives that many people endure all day – sitting. Shortening of the psoas and how detrimental to overall health can occur.
Psoas is one of the muscles that we can easy forgot about. Mostly because it is located deep in our body. I do agree that todays living habits turn out that muscles from the work. It becomes weak, but short as well. While recovering the psoas it is good to think that healthy muscle is strong and flexiblel. Do not forget about mobilizing it in maximum range of contraction and extencion.
Before doing Yoga Tune-Up training, I never realized how “core” the psoas is to the core! Thank you for being so specific about attachment location and how this can affect shoulder flexion. Very informative.
Great blog! This muscle is so important, and this blog explains it’s function in a easy way to understand. Thank you!
Thank-you Dagmar! I love the immediate feedback that can be attained with test and retest for shoulder flexion in connection with stretching the psoas. It’s so fascinating discovering the interconnectedness of the body. I wonder if the affects are reciprocal, meaning that stretching the trapezius could help bring some suppleness in the psoas?
hmmm, emotional injuries may contribute to a tight/restricted psoas, eh? It’s funny b/c during my first ever yoga teacher training our teacher asked us to notice what parts of our body changed (constricted, tensed) when we were stressed. And what I found is that when I am really stressed my psoas muscle BURNS b/c it gets so tight. 🙁
Love learning about this muscle! Seemingly elusive yet profound in the function of so many systems of the body. Not to mention the depth of emotion and energy we store in this extensive muscle. Always something new to discover!
Wow!! I had no idea that the psoas could effect shoulder flexion or that originates at T12! This is an excellent post. I can’t wait for Core Immersion next month.
I appreciate the way you laid out exactly how to relate to students how to propriocept their psoas, Very clear and made me stop before commenting to stretch my psoas- after sitting for a while on the computer it seemed urgent!
Learning about this muscle, I am amazed at the range of upper and lower body and breath connections. For such an integrated muscle, I am surprised that I find it so difficult to propriocept.
Thanks for this post! It’s a nice, clear explanation of the workings of the psoas! Because of where it is in the body, I think it’s easy to get confused about what the psoas does. I’m forwarding it to a couple friends who need to make friends with this workhorse of a muscle!
Hi there it’s unbelievable how many people have tight psoas muscles. I am a trainer and own a studio in Ottawa and have of the women who were in my class tonight all had one leg longer than the other or were anteriorly tilted putting so much strain on their lower back. I took a moment to explain how to stack their joints and engage their glutes to take the pressure off their lower back muscles and help stacking their joints with more ease. This is great info thanks
I was floored today when in class when did a test-retest on shoulder flexion after releasing the QL and psoas. I had gained almost 30 degrees of flexion. I think that more movement therapists need to take a more holistic view of the body and musculature in order to treat both the injury and the chronic behaviours that lead to it.
It is amazing that this muscle that is used for flexion of the hips can strongly affect digestion and shoulder flexion in the upper body. In addition, there is a connection between the psoas and the diaphragm so that the health of this muscle also affects our breathing.
i liked information about what makes the psoas tight & restricted- muscular imbalances. That’s where YTU can help integrate anatomy & body mechanics.
Such a great explanation of such an important muscle. I never knew that the psoas also affects the structure of our upper body! The vitality of the entire body! Wow! I need to learn this well and apply it right away! Thanks so much!
Very elegantly explained Dagmar. The psoas is a muscle which needs to be understood by everyone. It’s important to understand how much impact it has on the body especially when it’s dys-supple! My psoas’ get very tight from spending hours sitting in a class room, and I really notice the change in my sitting after I’ve stretched them. Thanks!
Dagmar, GREAT article! The psoas muscle is so very integrated with our daily life. Most of us live in a body where the psoas is so incredibly tight and under stretched that we think it is normal.
When a client comes in with a sore lower back and has not had an injury, one of the first things I do is check their flexibility of their psoas! When they are educated on where this muscle lays, where it’s origin is, they have much more understanding on the function of their movement and why I am checking the health of the psoas muscle.
I agree with Courtney, the hip series stretches on the block are amazing for a psoas stretch!
That is great that you took the time to focus on that mysterious muscle. So many people have heard about it but don’t really know where it is, what it does or how important it is. Your students are lucky to have you!
I wish I had the anatomy training I’ve been going through with YTU when I was doing triathlons. During long course tris, on the run, I would have shortness of breath and a sensation of having to poop on the run portion. When I would talk to PT friends, they would indicate that it could be my psoas, but only told me to get up in there with my fingers and massage it out. Today we did the hip series on a block and I felt a nice stretch in the psoas that would’ve been quite helpful back in the day!
Thank you for this wonderful explanation. It is true that we are not aware of this IMPORTANT muscle and the importance of stretcht it. As being a muscle so difficult to perceive it is very important to explian and do exercises that will hepl in daily activities.
I’ve never known the scientific term of psoas, but have discovered on my own that when I stretch the area above my pelvic bone, I typically feel the stretch in my hip. It feels great. Now that I know there is a rhyme to the reason, I look forward to spending more time on this extremely tight area of my body.
Oh, the psoas! As a strength and conditioning coach who primarily utilizes the classic lifts (snatch, clean and jerk), I see lots of tight lower backs in my beginning lifters. After addressing inefficient movement patterns, I suspect (among other things) a restricted psoas. I instruct my athletes who are still tight in the lower back to do lunge stretches with extra emphasis on flexing the knee leading the lunge, comfortably extending the trail leg, and then laterally flexing the spine. This will shift the pelvis forward and allow for a deep stretch of the anterior portion of the hip and subsequently, the psoas. Many of my athletes have remarked how the tension just melts away in their lower backs after this stretch.
As explained by others, the psoas is attached by its connective tissue to the crura, or lower aspect of the diaphragm. Working with the diaphragm, it acts as a hydraulic pump of sorts to promote deep breathing and increase blood circulation. A limited diaphragm due to various kinds of alignment dysfunction in the body results in a tight psoas. The more limited the diaphragm, the tighter the psoas. Thinking about the psoas from the perspective that the body is one complete system, it is just as effective to work on alignment dysfunction to create more “space” for the diaphragm, for example, postural alignment, as it is to relax or stretch the psoas itself.
Thank you for this description of how extensive and important the psoas muscle is for our daily life and activities — I had no idea it played a part in digestion and elimination as well. Great information!
I think it is also worth mentioning the close relationship the PSOAS has to the Quadratus lumborum, a shorter muscle which is also very deep in the core. It runs right alongside the PSAOS major up through the diaphragm. Together they stabilize the spine, determine the health of the relationship between the lower and upper body, AND because of their proximity to the diaphragm and to the gut, they have a strong effect on breathing and digestion. Since breath and healthy digestion directly relate to mental and emotional well being, having a healthy PSOAS and QL is essential to a person’s over all sense of well being, and therefor on their relationships, their enthusiasm about life, their ability to focus on work, and their creativity. You just aren’t going to find many happy thriving people who are shallow breathers with bunchy groins and indigestion.
It really is mesmerizing to learn how the iliosoas act as a connector between lower and upper body movements.
I never really understood the intricacies of the psoas, its placement inside the body, the neighboring muscles it works with and the attachments too! We tend to take for granted the simple movement of lateral hip flexion or the “baby hip lift
the psoas plays a huge part , gets tight and contorted. The YTU balls are a huge therapeutic way to go deep into the body to offer relief to this muscle. Looking forward to the next post!
i love that you addressed the upper body in this post. i often feel that when the iliopsoas is talked about, it becomes a general and very murky conversation about “hip flexors” and the nuances and complications of the functions of the muscles gets very confused and lost! so thank you.
I sit at a desk all day for a normal job and commute by bike. It boggles my mind when I walk in to a teach a yoga class and the students don’t understand the function of this muscle group. Thanks for the great post.
Coreso Leg Lifts and Yogi Leg Lifts are terrific psoas strengtheners! Hope you will get chance to come across them. I know Jill is teaching amazing Coreso Leg Lifts variations on her COREGEOUS dvd!
I used to have lots of problems with my psoas from years of dance training, but yoga has really helped me learn how to be gentle and move thoughtfully so as not to further weaken it and actually helps to strengthen it.