Tucked deep in your hips and lower back, the psoas muscle won’t get you any compliments at the beach—but keeping it strong and flexible is crucial to keeping your body feeling good.
The world may be reopening, but it turns out that post-lockdown life, for a lot of us, still involves plenty of sitting and scrolling and TikTok viewing. It can lead to feeling a little stiff and creaky. But it’s not just a matter of simply feeling a little old—many of these achy feelings are worth looking into and working on, rather than ignoring or just complaining about. We’ve already talked about anterior pelvic tilt. Today, it’s onto the psoas muscle.
Whether you know it or not, you have a psoas. It’s a muscle—or, more accurately, pair of muscles—that run from your lower back to your hip flexors, connecting into your femurs. And it’s important. According to Cassandra Hill, a doctor of physical therapy at Fox Rehabilitation, it’s one of the most important muscles that “no one’s talking about.”
“It’s your deepest core muscle and the only muscle in your body that crosses the lumbar spine and the hip joint,” she says. “As more and more folks are sitting more and moving less during the day, issues with this primary hip flexor can cause a waterfall of problems from compensation concerns to knee pain to discomfort that radiates down the leg and more.” Going about your day-to-day with a wonky psoas muscle can lead to a higher risk for other problems, ranging from postural changes to shortened stride length—which can really mess with running and walking.
“If you have tight and weak hip flexors, these issues can become more exacerbated as your movements get more dynamic,” says Hill. “So think of going from standing to walking to running or cycling—once you get some distance under your belt, your hips are going to start talking to you and you won’t like what they have to say.”
But, especially lately, it’s not true that no one is talking about it: Living national treasure Adriene Mishler of Yoga With Adriene has a video dedicated to it; Joe Rogan swears by targeting it with a Pso-Rite massage tool. And Hill walked through the right plan of attack for someone who may be experiencing psoas discomfort, plus tips for getting more comfortable ASAP.
1. Talk to an Expert
Pay attention to any stiffness or pain. It can be easy to dismiss a little creakiness, and a tight or inflamed psoas may not be the worst pain in the world in your day-to-day, it does impact your movement patterns which can then really mess you up in the long run. If something feels off, Hill’s first recommendation is to seek out a professional opinion—a doctor or physical therapist.
“The thing about issues with your psoas is that oftentimes you’ll learn about this because something else has been negatively impacted,” says Hill. “It’s up to the person you check in with to be able to figure that out and give you the right action plan to help you alleviate pain in that area.”
2. Be Mindful
It’s super easy for us to pay attention to the muscles we look at in the mirror. (What guy isn’t going to be thinking about his pecs and biceps before heading to the beach?) But just like you would work those biceps to get a nice pre-tank top tone, it’s important that you’re working the psoas in a similar fashion and giving it some time. You want to be engaging it against gravity, says Hill, and adding things like supine marches into your routine, raising your knee up toward your chest.
“You can progress and modify from there, by doing things like adding ankle weights or resistance bands,” says Hill. “But make sure you have these basic movement patterns down with your own bodyweight, first. If you start adding weight to things you’re not ready for, it could lead to more compensation and a longer period of recovery from the injury.”
There are some other less-conservative ways that you can manage psoas discomfort, adds Hill, like ice, heat, or a massage gun. “The muscle group is so deep—with internal organs and arteries over it—that it’s hard to access with most of these, but if these things feel good, then there’s no harm in it.”
4. Remember: No Position Is Good for Too Long
There’s a reason why the Apple Watch nags you to get up and stand every so often, because moving regularly—even just around the home—lengthens the muscles and gets the blood moving. (When you sit, your posas is scrunched into a shortened state.) It’s not a matter of finding the perfect chair, or committing to standing all of the time. “No one position is too good for too long,” says Hill. “Get up and move around every hour, your body will be better for it.”
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