The Profound Psoas
We have all been to the party, Tiki torches are lit, the BBQ is blazing and La-Bamba begins playing in the distance. Someone grabs the broom and all the attendees line up for a fan-favorite...Limbo. The children ease under the pole with style as the adults begin to plunge to the ground. Have you ever wondered why this game may be so easy for some and near-impossible for others? It all in the hips, specifically the psoas.
The psoas is the only muscle that bridges the gap between the lower limb and the torso. The psoas muscle runs deep in the trunk of the body connecting the lumbar spine (low back) to the top of the leg through the pelvis. This makes the psoas play an integral role in posture, balance, core stabilization, and moving. As the psoas tightens, the ability to extend backward decreases. When a muscle contracts it shortens the distance between the two end points, thus bringing the lumbar spine and leg closer together. When the psoas remains in a semi-contracted state, while sitting, the neurological set point of muscle length shifts to become shorter to accommodate a sustained sitting posture. We are seeing a chronic contracture of the psoas muscle due to the excess time spent sitting (while eating meals, in the car, at work, on the subway, in a cab, watching tv etc). We then reinforce the shortened muscle length by performing exercises that perpetuate the movement.
The primary motion of the psoas is to close the gap between the knee and the chest, flexing the hip joint. This doesn’t just mean bringing the knee to the chest but also the chest to the knees, such as a sit up. Although many believe a sit-up is an abdominal exercise, it is actually a hip flexing exercise. Though many of us go to the gym on a daily basis, many of the exercises that we may choose, further imbalance the psoas. Movement is great, however, at times, an hour of motion may not outweigh a 12-hour work day spent sitting.
If the psoas is contracted, when an individual stands they will have a forward leaning posture. As a result of that tilt, the righting-reflex is activated. This reflex is designed to keep our eyes level with the horizon. The body must compensate for the shortened psoas and forward tilt, the lumbar curve increases and the pelvis tilts forward.
So what affect does this have on your health? From a biomechanical point, an abnormal posture will lead to an abnormal gait, abnormal gait will lead to aberrant movement ultimately leading to a diminished expression of health. The psoas may also cause an array of problems due to its close proximity to organs, nerves and arteries. The psoas is linked to the fight-or-flight sympathetic neurological response, thus, decreasing our ability to digest food or perform sexually. Which, I do not know about you, but eating and sexual intercourse not only top the list as my favorite things to do but are pivotal for the survival of the species. Considering these factors, I think balancing the psoas should top our “Healthy Living To-Do List.”