Ever ponder what muscles are involved when you’re standing straight up? What muscles are primarily involved in keeping you upright?
You have a couple dozen soft tissue postural supporters running from your feet up your body to your head, which work in conjunction with one another to maintain your vertical posture and stabilize your joints.
With more than 600 individual muscles in the human body, there is only one that connects the upper and lower halves of your body. It is the psoas, and it has an important job to do. The psoas major’s origin is at the anterior surfaces of the transverse processes of the lumbar vertebrae and the lateral surfaces of T12-L5 and the intervertebral discs in this region. It inserts on the lesser trochanter of the femur. The psoas major contributes to spinal flexion, hip flexion and unilateral side bending of the torso.
The quadratus lomborum (QL) originates at the iliac crest and the iliolumbar ligament and inserts at the 12th rib and the transverse processes of each lumbar vertebrae. The QL’s responsibility is to unilaterally flex the torso (side bend) and to elevate the ilium. Bilaterally, it also extends the lumbar spine and fixes the 12th rib during forced expiration.
Take a moment to think about the movements you make during most of your day. While you’re awake do you sit a lot, at work or in the car? Does your workout routine consist primarily of running, cycling and squatting? When you’re asleep do you curl up in fetal position with your knees hugged in? There is a trend in these movements. Your psoas is shortened and since the psoas and QLs origin point is shared, what you do to one affects the other. When you flex or hunch forward you now influence the resting length of the QLs. This repetitive motion throughout your day can affect proper movement and optimal muscle function.
There are a few actions you can take to reverse the shortening of the psoas major and these simple movements can be incorporated throughout your day.
First, stand up from your seat. If you find you sit a lot, break it up by standing and walking to the bathroom or water cooler. Actually, walking to the water cooler and drinking more water will result in more restroom visits, so it’s a win/win situation!
Second, place your hands on your low back, engage your abdominal muscles and press your hips forward. You don’t need to take a deep backbend, just enough to lengthen through the frontline of your body.
Finally, step the right foot back and press your hips forward. This movement puts the right hip in extension and also helps to eccentrically contract (lengthen) the psoas muscle.
Check back soon. In my next article I’ll guide you through self-massage techniques using the Yoga Tune Up® Therapy Balls to help release tightness in the psoas and quadratus lomborum.
I often don’t consider suggestion a standing backbend for clients, but I will definitely add this to my list of go-to strategies for people to fit in throughout their day!
Thank you for the explanation and the movements that can be done to lengthen the Psoas. I sit for work most of the time and I’m also a side sleeper, so my psoas is often shortened. I’m getting better at anatomy and learned the ‘hip flexor’ isn’t really a thing, rather it’s the QL. Both contribute so much to our stability!
The psoas the only muscle that make the connection between the two half of my body ! I never realised that. Thank you
Interesting post, clearly written. Very helpful, as someone who does a desk job.
Very interessing facts and thanks for the tips and actions to take in our daily life.
Good job for this article.
Do you have any informations about QL/psoas controlateral relation ? (ie left QL and right psoas synergia or relation)
Thank you for the wonderful anatomy lesson the the tips on keeping the psoas and QL healthy.
I love this clear and concise way of describing the anatomy and functions of these muscles. I have a student whose right ASIS is constantly elevated higher than his left. I will try having him roll out his QL to release the tension. My sense is it will help to release his hip. Thanks for this!
Great tips for keeping healthy length and mobility in Psoas and QL. Thanks!
This week I have been experiencing pain from around my low back to the front of my hip, down my leg to my ankle, and up the same side of my body to my neck. After reading this I realized that the only time in the last couple days that I have not experienced this pain was while I was walking. Thank you for this insight, I will work on the other stretch mentioned and look forward to reading the next post.
Great cues Monica, I can incorporate them into my classes, thank you.
So important to keep the psoas major from shortening, thanks for this.
Super easy to implement tips and nice overview of the connection of the psoas and QL to posture
These are great, easy tips that anyone can (and should) do throughout the day. Best of all, they can be done anywhere. I’m going to make a point to incorporate them every day.
Great tips! I’ve been sitting too much today and just extended my hips while engaging my abs! It helped relieve my discomfort.
Great tips we can all use and benefit from. Thank you especially for the hip extension one, and for stating it does not need to be a deep back bend.
Love the win-win suggestion for more water and bathrooms breaks! Not to mention you’ll be more hydrated. Also great simple movements to incorporate very quickly.
my psoas and I appreciate your article! Thank you!
I really appreciated reading about how the QL and the Psoas were so closely intertwined. I struggle with a tight Psosas and see now that I most likely also have a QL I need to be lengthening and strengthening as well. Thank you for the quick tips I can easily incorporate into my work day 🙂
Thanks Monica for clearly showing and concisely explaining the psoas and QL. The 3 tips are simple and easy to do. Literally within a few minutes each day you can hit the reset button!
Great info and love your options to stretch… easy enough to do by anyone, anywhere!
It’s so true that many many people sit and sit again! They just don’t know how bad it is until it hurts! Thank you for bringing back the subject on the table. People must know those tips so they can limit the damages.
It’s true that many of us living “modern lifestyles” of extended sitting spend a lot of time in psoas flexion and mild QL extension–which often contributes to low back pain–and would benefit from extending the psoas and counter-stretching a seated position. Yet we tend to fear back bends because they can also cause pain. It’s important that we know how to counter-stretch correctly so as to not dump overextension into the lumbar spine. Let’s spread the YTU standing diaphragm-based backbend technique!
This was a great post to point my students to when they have questions about these two muscles. I think they get a lot of attention in yoga classes so they seem to be muscle names that the average yoga student is familiar with. I love the reminders of how often these muscles are in a shortened position and agree that the best remedy is not to wait until you are officially exercising to stretch them out but to get a little reverse movement in throughout the day. Curious to hear your thoughts on strengthening these muscles on top of stretching them — especially using PNF in eccentric contraction.
Great article to understand and integrate the importance of the psoas and the way that many hours sitting work can impact this muscle! Thanks for the idea of getting water often ?. Drinking more water is althought something people should do to!
As a teacher of movement, I know the psoas is a chronic tight place in a sedentary culture … but sometimes I forget just how much we do that keeps it that way – really mind blowing. I also love the standing with one leg back technique – it’s simple enough to do pretty much anywhere without people really noticing – even in a bathroom in the office (ha ha). Lastly, it’s very helpful to see the correlation between the insertion points of the QL and psoas in relation to their attachment points and then think about how intimately they effect the health and movement of our spine and hips.
Very helpfull this artical for me,having had major isuses in this area .it made me realize that i have to still be proactive in this thank you foer the exercises most helpfull
The eccentric stretches you suggested for the psoas felt great! I have been sitting and working for the past few hours and I needed the reminder to stand up!
Getting a good visual for where the psoas is in relation to the QL and the rest of the body helps me with my proprioception. Thank you!!
The common source of back pain is the the tightness QL. If you’re in the position of sitting or lean forward for a long time without stretching, the QL will be getting more and more contractions.
Because the QL connects the pelvis to the spine so the more QL contracts, the less mobility of extending from lower lumbar and pelvis and cause back pain.
Thanks for the article. I took an online class in stretching the psoas and as we all sit so much, it has been a lifesaver for me. However, I need to remember the tips you give; get up and walk, stretch, drink fluids, walk more. Here’s to our psoas and QL!
Love the 2 for 1 tip to hydrate and add motion to the day with more bio breaks. In our modern day world I feel like I need to do more activity with intention. Will add this to my list.
Thanks for the great movements to find length for this important muscles. Sitting all say is a drag on your spirit and your body. With these simple movements we can undo an i credible about of shortness and stiffness. Thank you!
thanks for making me think about my own movements as I continue to read about the importance of the QL and psoas. It really helped connect everything!
Thank you for the great article and reminder that “what you do to one affects the other” specifically the resting influence of the muscle. I also loved the simple things that we can throughout the day to maintain a happy relationship between the psoas & QL. Thanks, too, for including great pictures to help us learn.
thanks for sharing the short and “easy to do” practice. I´m teaching yoga classes to office workers and this is a kind of movement, that they could easily practice even during worktime.
Great article – I’ve never really thought about the posas being the only muscle that crosses the upper and lower body. I’ve also been looking for ways to release my posas as I sit wayyy too much…
Could definitely feel my PSOAS after stepping the foot back! Will do this more often and encourage others to do so as well.
This was a great post! I’m constantly sitting at work and at home. It’s great to learn exactly what is happening inside the body and fixes to counteract the effects!
I often forget about what my body does during the 8 hours of sleep. 8 hours!! of course if a muscle is shortened this entire time it will be affected all the time. Thanks for the tips, Monica!
Thank you for educating me about the psoas and quadratus lumborum. The 3 step recommendation is accessible and the directions easy to follow.
Monica thanks to point out the co relationship of the
QL and Psoas major. Most of the activities( running, biking, squatting) or non activities (like sitting, or sitting and put weight on side of the body, driving) will impact the hip flexors (psoas major ) and Quadratus lumborum which pairs inside the body front and back of our body and related to the lumber spine and pelvic stability and movement. The tight psoas might change the curve of the lumber spine and the tilt of pelvis which will change the length Quadratus lumborum. The fists at the back exercise can be so helpful for desk people.
Thank you, Monica!
Several years ago I received and unfortunate yoga adjustment that injured my left psoas insertion. As a result, the QL on that same side went into overdrive attempting to pick up the, quite literal, slack.
I found that stabilizing/strengthening the psoas, in addition to lengthening as you suggest, was an enormous help to restoring the balance. Same for QL. It was really through exploring their relationship to movement that I discovered how to isolate and treat them.
I focus a lot on the psoas, but never thought of incorporating the QL in this thought process. I guess this could be mistakenly movement coupled and lateral flexion could be found in hip flexion. It is important to know how to activate them individually.
The relationship between the QL and the psoas is fascinating! Thank you for sharing the actions to reverse the shortening of the psoas major! I look forward to practising these movements myself, and showing them to clients. Perfect for desk-workers, and as you said, these movements are simple and can be incorporated daily!
Thank you for this article. While I was reading I felt like you were talking about me! My psoas is constantly being shortened. I did the exercises you suggested and will continue to do so during the day at my desk.
Thanks for illustrating the relationship between the psoas and quadratus lumborum, and the simple techniques described to reset poor daily postural habits! Will definitely have to investigate my go-to sleeping positions!
I am dealing with the results of repetitive sleeping positions that have left me with shortened and tightened QL and psoas, so I was delighted to come across a blog that explore their relationship! I really enjoyed trying out the exercise detailed here and look forward to reading part 2!!
Was just told about the psoas/QL connection during my Level 1 training in June. Thanks for the simple stretches. These easily fit into my day!
I’ve been hearing a lot about the QL lately but haven’t had the slightest clue what it was or what it did so thank you for illuminating that. I also didn’t realize that the psoas was the only muscle that connected our upper to our lower half. Thats incredible and yet we abuse it so much by being constantly in hip flexion. I have found that whenever I do any psoas stretching (cresent lunge, warrior 1, back bending etc that it gets very irritated. It also get irritated when I try to use it for any period of time (warrior 2, extended angle, happy baby etc). What I have been finding helpful is actually to start to learn to engage my gluteus muscles. My psoas has been tight from my mostly flexion lifestyle (biking, yoga, desk work) and since it was already tight it was what my body was recruiting for all of the heavy lifting. now that I am starting to learn to use and isolate my external and internal rotators I have found my psoas to be much less cranky!
Ouf so much responsabily, better start lenghtening it as soon as possible
My two favorite and most problematic muscles.
“What you do to one affects the other” is such a good takeaway, most people don’t even know how these two muscles are interrelated. I’m just becoming aware of this myself, I will start taking note of how I fall asleep tonight. Thanks for breaking down this relationship so well.
I never thought of the psoas as the only muscle that connects the upper and lower halves of the body. That is a big job! Still a bit muddy on the Q.L, though…on to Part 2!
I think they also are my big issu. As a desk worker i will deginitly try the water/bathroom trick. I will also stretch more for the psoas.
i have to work on this muscle soo much…
Your so right, the psoas is such a powerful muscle. I will definitely pass on those great stretches to my clients. Thanks
Nice simple stretch of the psoas. I have a tendency of making things a lot more complicated then they should be.
Nice, simple stretch of the psoas. I have a tendency of thinking it has to be something complicated to access deep muscles.
-I have always wondered what the mystery psoas muscle was and why it was so hard for me to understand where it was in the body.
-The example given says that we sit and hunch forward in flexion more often causing the psoas to shorten and the QL to lengthen. Does this mean that if someone always has their pelvis in an anterior tilted position their psoas muscles would be lengthened past their resting length and the QL muscles would be shortened?
-I love the three easy tips for people who are constantly sitting at their desks.
I did not realize the QL and psoas shared an attachment point! Of course that makes total sense. Great info for students with lower back pain with easy suggestions for them to use throughout their day.
Remembering that the psoas muscle group is the link between our upper and lower body gives me a new way to talk about this in a class where this is the focus. When I can help my clients visualize the muscle they are training and why it is important, they stay more motivated and focused during the exercise/movement, and so do I!
As a person who works at a desk all day (and works remotely from our home office) and sleeps in a fetal position, I often find that my only significant movement during the weekday is getting up to go to the restroom. But even before reading this blog, I found that standing and pressing hips forward helped to release my lower back. It was helpful to read this and find that that this movement is “globally” helpful, and glad that I’m on the right path! I will now have to look to see what techniques I can use to massage these tight areas using the therapy balls.
Great Post! This perfectly illustrates the relationship of the QL and Psoas. I liked how you pointed out what we do during the day can impact our bodies. Flexion at the hips all day with sitting, leads to chronically tight/weak psoas – as well as a chronically “tight”/lengthened/weakened QL. Thanks for sharing!
This post is very informative! I have lower back and hip pain. I did not realize I spend most of my time shortening my psoas major and QL with my repetitive movement and habits. It was helpful to learn that the psoas and QL are connected and attaching to different areas such as the spine, pelvis, hips and femur. I tried the tips the author provided to lengthen my psoas and QL and will continue to use them.
Great article! Do you recommend rolling out the QL to help stretch the psoas?
Thank you I didn’t thinkabout it before I sleep with one hip in flexion all night and and my other hip extended creating a larger arch in my back this might be why I experience back pain more at night while I sleep
Great tips. I also find that slighty internally rotating the right hip while performing (“step the right foot back and press your hips forward. This movement puts the right hip in extension and also helps to eccentrically contract (lengthen) the psoas muscle.”) will draw the lesser trochanter a bit further away from the origin of psoas, giving a little more stretch.
Thank you for the article!
Thank you! Delivering a clear message of function and posture awareness…perfect! next class will hear and see some of this! namaste~
Thank you for the clear explanation and for reminding to stand up and walk around more. We spend so much time sitting, even at the gym! Will definitely suggest this to my students.
Thank you for breaking this down in such an easy way to understand!
I call the Psoas “silent/untouchable” but extremely important hidden muscle. Its strength and flexibility is essential for hip and spine health. Apart from the list of standing actions the article above mentions in order to reverse the shortening of the Psoas, non-standing movements are just as important to be incorporated throughout the day especially for recovering athletes and seniors with balance challenges and specific limitations.
Thank you for the clear explanation of this common imbalance. I certainly experience discomfort in my low back regularly, however I am not a sitter nor do I find myself sleeping in a fetal position. I practice quite a bit of yoga and am wondering if there is repetitious movement or postures that could be contributing to my situation. I find that it is most painful to stand up from hips flexed while keeping my spine straight. I appreciate any insight. Thank you.
great reminders to think about in regards to the psoas!
Great article, so many people are sitting at a desk all day long that you are right (and it is kind of sad), just going to the water cooler is movement!! Thanks for the stretching tips, will continue to encourage my peers and students to move and to balance their every day posture with appropriate exercices.
Thank you for this sharing. Always good remember….This will help me for my next class
I tend to curl up when I sleep, but have lately been catching this habit and changing my body position to extend my legs and hips…still working on changing behavior. Also, I started using the Alpha Therapy Ball to roll out my psoas and it has made a huge impact on pain relief. Thanks so much for your post.
Great post. I can feel that my QL and Psoas are shortened after a long flight. I get straight in with the Alpha ball and some yin yoga. Im interested to read your follow up article. Thank you!
We have a huge cycle following in our gym and I know that our clients would benefit from these simple techniques. So many times we find that people are unaware of the impact that their daily habits can have if not mindful of their posture or using techniques such as this to correct/reset.
Great article, thanks for the tips on how to stand more at work, will defionitely suggest this to my clients.
I really appreciate these easy to do & remember tips to target stretch the psoas through out a day while upright.
Love the visual anatomical chart, but can’t read the name labels, print is too small 🙁