Thursday, September 01, 2011

Meet your Muscles: The Psoas

Welcome to my new semi-weekly feature..."Meet your Muscles".

Each posting will highlight a different muscle and try to tell us a bit about it and how it might effect our running/biking/etc. I hope you will share your person experiences as I share mine. 

The graphics for these posts come from a site in google labs called "Google Body". Basically it's a 3D model of the internals of a man and woman. There are sliders that let you decide how much of the interior you see. I like the 'many sliders' mode that makes each part separately controllable. For this image I had bones full on all the other stuff full off , and then I turned up the muscles and used the  'pin' feature: you can click on an object and select a little thumbtack to keep the object visible. Then I turned the muscles down and viloa: I have my muscle of the day visible.

Play around with it, it's fun and you can learn a lot about your muscles.

Today say hello to your right psoas major and minor.

This is the muscle that my PT had me work on first. It was tense as a rock. 

Most of us understand the basic limb muscles...e.g. quads, biceps, etc. But when it comes to the muscles of our core, we are (or at least I am) clueless. When I looked at pictures it just looked like a complicated rats nest of stuff in there. Yikes! I've turned all of it off for the picture you see above. 

But the core muscles are the ones that allowed us to walk on our hind legs.

You can see and massage any of your limb muscles directly, but core muscles like the psoas you can only stretch by using your figures to push on your abdomen... through your guts (i.e. intestines) into the muscle.

This, um,  is not something I would think to do, whereas I might rub my arm or my leg without giving it a second thought.

One confusion I had was: "if my right side is longer, but the muscle is rock hard, wouldn't my pelvis be tilted off vertical and then be shorter?". No, not necessarily, I was confusing tension with contraction. A muscle can be in tension and not doing it's job (changing length and adapting to conditions) and not be actually contracting to a shorter length.

After a few weeks of massage, I have found it's much more rare that my psoas is locked up...I check it morning and evening and before and after a run. To loosen it up, I lie on my back and push my extended rigid fingers into my abdomen halfway between my hip bone and my belly button. This point is just to the right of your "six pack" (or in my case, more of a 3.5 pack 8). 

DISCLAIMER: I'm not a doctor. This is the internet, not your to your doctor if you think you might hurt something doing this.

If you find something tight, press gently on it and exhale, then release the pressure, inhale and repeat until it gradually relaxes. You can slide your heel along the floor, bending the knee slightly, and this will tense the psoas and slow you if you are still messed up.

Move the pressure point around a bit side to side and up and down and you may find the psoas minor is tight, but not the major. At this point I've felt them both (I think).

Worried about mashing an organ?... there's no organs below your rib cage that you can mush with your pressing...kidneys etc are all up higher.

The feeling of loosening these muscles is very different than say, taking out a trigger point on your calf muscle. Its a much duller pain when you press ..doesn't hurt as much but feels weird since it's way inside. But if you press on it, just like with other muscles, it will gradually relax.

I'm trying to be aware of when my hips are not moving freely so I can prevent the lock-up. When I run or walk or sit for a long period I try to do little movements side to side, forward and back, to see if my pelvis is still free.

You notice the psoas anchors on the spine itself, which makes it VERY IMPORTANT: lower back pain problems can stem from  psoas problems (or the illipsoas ..a muscle we'll cover later).

Google body link here. Try it out!


  1. I feel smarter already, love it! :)

    I've never heard of Google body...maybe it was better I didn't know, I probably now will have a new obsession.

  2. Nice post. What you label "psoas minor" is actually a ligament, the "inguinal ligament".
    You can check out my work on the psoas here.


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