Have you ever had nagging back pain? You know the kind that hurts when you stand up for too long? Or maybe even the kind that still hurts when you’re lying down and makes it difficult for you to fall asleep? Lower back pain is incredibly common with at least 80% of Americans experiencing it in their lifetime. The pain can be caused by a number of problems like injury or muscle sprains, but it could also be caused by a little know muscle called your psoas muscle.
The psoas muscle lies deep in your core and is the reason you can get out of bed in the morning. This major muscle can also affect posture, help support the spine, and when it’s inflamed and tight, it could also be a big contributor to lower back and pelvic pain. The good news is that if the psoas is causing your back pain, stretching and various self-applied massages could relieve most of the pain you may be experiencing.
What is the Psoas Muscle?
The psoas muscle (pronounced so-as) is located deep in the body, really close to the spine, inside the hips and thigh bones. The origin of the muscle starts at your lower back and wraps itself around your hips to its insertion point at the front of the hips.
It’s the only muscle body that connects the torso to the legs and plays an essential role in your body movements, hip flexors, and back support. When you walk, run, sit, cycle or do anything that needs you to bend your hips, you’re using your psoas muscle.
Structurally, your psoas muscle is the deepest muscle in your core. The psoas goes from your thoracic vertebrae down to your lumbar vertebrae, and through the pelvis eventually attaching to your femurs, making a triangle shape. When you bend forward to pick something up, the muscles that flex your trunk forward are your psoas muscles.
The group of muscles are made up of both slow and fast twitching muscles. As they are major flexors, it means that weak psoas muscles can cause the muscles around the area to become overused. This is why a tight or overstretched psoas muscle can actually be the cause of many aches and pains in the body including lower back pain.
What Does the Psoas Muscle do?
In the body, there are three significant muscles that help to connect the torso to the legs which are the piriformis, gluteus maximus and the psoas.
One of the reasons that you can stand upright and freely move around is because of the curve in your spine. The role of this curve is to bear and transfer the weight above it. The psoas muscle helps to create this curve as it pulls the lumbar vertebrae up and down.
Another essential role the psoas muscle performs is helping you to walk. During the movement of walking, your brain lets your psoas muscle know to move your back leg forward. This starts the change between the front and back legs, making you take a step. The psoas muscle is also vital for supporting good posture. That’s why many dancers or even people who enjoy Pilates, a form of exercise often praised for improving the muscle, use it to improve their posture and strengthen their ability to lift their legs higher.
You may have never heard of it but the psoas muscle plays essential roles in the body. The psoas helps support your back and so much more. If the muscle is weak or too tight and overworked, it can lead to pain in the back, neck and other problems. It appears that taking care of your psoas muscle is crucial to a strong posture and pain-free body.
The Psoas Muscle and Lower Back Pain
When you have a strong psoas, it supports good posture and everyday activities. However, a weak psoas can make even the smallest of tasks a challenge and lead to bigger problems and back pain. The psoas muscle is often the most involved in lower back pain due to its position on the spine.
When the muscle is irritated, it can cause pain along the front of the hips and into the abdomen. In this case, lower back pain is usually a result of the position the hips are being pulled into. It’s natural to have a curve in the spine, however, a forward pull can create a bigger curve in the spine at the bottom of the back. An increased curve can put excess pressure on the body and may cause lower back pain. A tight or weak psoas can be caused by several factors including:
- Chronic sitting
- Prolonged cycling
- Weak glutes and abs
- Overstretched or torn ligaments
That is why if you have a desk job, it’s important to get up from your seat and walk around periodically so your hips don’t tighten too much. You can also get a standing desk so you can periodically work while standing up.
If the psoas muscle is tight or shortened, you may move toward an arched back, especially when you use your abdominal muscles. If your psoas is weak or tight, it will probably be harder to flex your hip. This means numerous actions that are usually effortless will become tougher like climbing stairs, walking and even standing from a sitting position.
How to Stretch the Psoas Muscle and Release Tension
When you sit for long periods of time, it may cause the psoas muscle to tighten. Because of this, your pelvis can be pulled forward, putting pressure on your spine resulting in lower back pain. One of the most obvious symptoms of a tight psoas is a limit or restriction in your hip movement. Stretching is a great way to strengthen and release tension in the psoas muscle. Stretching can help bring relaxation and comfort to your back.
On a mat, lie on your back with your legs out long in front of you. Focus on pressing your belly button down onto your spine and place your hands above your head. Lift your right leg several inches off the ground and hold the pose for up to 5 seconds. Repeat the movement 10 to 15 times, then switch to the left leg. This will strengthen the muscle.
Then after you’ve done a few sets, be sure to stretch your hamstrings on the the back of your thighs. Continue lying down but bring one leg up to a 90-degree angle while the other leg is still lengthened and straight on the floor.
You can bring your arms up to support the leg in the air or get a strap and wrap it around your foot while holding onto the ends of the strap. This will allow you to relax into the stretch better. Keep your leg in a position where your toes are facing forward (not turning out to the side) to better stretch all the muscles on the back of your leg.
Take a few deep breaths in through your nose and out through your mouth. Then release the stretch after 30-45 seconds and switch to the other leg.
One of the major muscles that make up your hip flexors is your psoas. If it’s tight here, it can directly lead to lower back pain. You can use a tennis ball to apply pressure to the tight area. Start by lying on your back. Place one tennis ball so that it sits at the lowest part of your back and close to the spine on one side. Come up to your forearms and then roll gently forward and back. Then move onto the other side of your spine.
Be sure to breathe deeply. It may feel sore and slightly painful if your psoas muscle is super tight, but you’re helping to work out the pressure and release the muscle.
Kneeling Lunge or Runners Lunge
On either a carpeted area or mat, drop your right knee below you. Extend your right leg away from the body with your toes touching the ground. Place your left leg in front of you at about a 90-degree angle. Be sure to keep your front hip bones facing forward instead of twisted to the side. Use strength from your glutes to gently ease your knee back and down. During this movement, maintain a strong posture with a tall head, straight back and strong shoulders or place your hands on either side of your front foot. It might be helpful to use a yoga block at first to help stabilize the posture until your psoas becomes stronger. Hold the position for 30 seconds then switch sides.
Yoga is ideal for clearing the mind and strengthening the body but also for activating the psoas. Postures like Bakasana and Navasana which involve deep hip flexion will help to activate the psoas muscle. To lengthen the psoas, think about postures that open the front body and activate different parts of the muscle. Warrior I Pose or Extended Side Angle Pose are a great place to start.
Nutrition and Lower Back Pain
You might not think that what you eat can affect your lower back pain and psoas muscle. If you’re tight and tense, it could actually be due to a magnesium deficiency. It’s estimated that up to 50% of the U.S population is deficient in magnesium. This powerhouse essential mineral can help ease stress, relax muscles and benefit sleep.
Magnesium is responsible for over 300 enzyme reactions in the body and can be found in all the tissues in your body but mainly in the bones, brain, and muscles. One study found that magnesium supplementation may help to ease pain in people with chronic lower back and nerve pain. Compared to the placebo group, the magnesium group reported significant improvements in both pain and spine range of motion during the follow-up.
It can be difficult to know if you’re getting the daily recommended amount of magnesium which is where a magnesium supplements comes in. Sunwarrior’s Liquid Ionic Magnesium is sourced from an ancient inland seabed and can help to relax muscles and promote sleep.
Back pain, whether it’s lower or upper back pain is one of the most commonly reported health complaints. To avoid medications that can have potentially drastic side effects on your body, many people turn to natural alternatives such as Hemp oil. Hemp is a natural compound that is extracted from the cannabis plant. It’s then combined with a carrier oil like coconut oil to create Hemp oil.
Sunwarrior’s Hemp Oil contains a natural blend of Hemp oil, vitamin D-3 and curcumin to help improve physical comfort, promote a healthy inflammatory response and boost the immune system. Research shows that Hemp , or cannabidiol, can help to reduce inflammation, aches, and pains. Therefore, Hemp could be potentially beneficial in easing lower back pain.
A combination of Hemp oil, curcumin and vitamin D-3 can work together to reduce inflammation, ease pain and improve mood. By using these three ingredients at the same time you get a supercharged concoction that works to relieve your body from any aches or pains.
A tight or weak psoas muscle can result in serious problems like lower back or pelvic pain. This deep muscle hidden in your core connects your torso to your legs and is essential for so many movements from everyday activities to running and cycling. By avoiding prolonged periods of sitting and performing stretches that activate the psoas, you can help strengthen your psoas and help prevent lower back pain.