Confession: I'm an anatomy nerd. It was one of my absolute favourite classes in high school, undergrad, and chiropractic school. So today I am going to nerd out.
Today I’m going to look a little more in-depth at one of my favourite muscles in the body. I’m sure many of you have heard of this guy, or maybe not. This muscle has a role in a ton of different movements that the body does every day. It’s also one of the muscles that I consider a ‘supermuscle’. Let’s delve into why.
There are two different psoas muscles, but a large percentage of population only has one of them. So for the sake of discussion today, we are going to look at Psoas major. The psoas is the deepest muscle in your body. It originates from the bodies of the T12 – L4 vertebrae, and crosses the hip to form a common attachment with the iliacus muscle at the lesser trochanter of the femur. This is why many people refer to it as iliopsoas. It is a major player in hip flexion along with the rectus femoris muscle since it crosses the hip joint. The psoas is also considered a major postural muscle based on its attachment to the spine. It is one of the main muscles that I personally look at when I’m working on patients who have low back complaints. The psoas is heavily implicated in low back issues due to the attachment to the spine, and also has a major role in sacroiliac joint dysfunction due to it’s relationship with the piriformis muscle.
The psoas is one of the muscles that attaches the upper half of the body to the lower half of the body. It has a role in controlling the major movements in our body, everything from core stability to walking. It is one of the muscles that becomes the most overused when we sit all day due to its role in hip flexion. It will become problematic when it gets shortened from spending too much time in a contracted position, which will lead to an increase in lumbar curve due to the tilt of the pelvis changing. The psoas is also considered to be one of the muscles that will pick up the slack in the case of pelvic floor dysfunction, which can further irritate an already overused muscle. There are theories that the health of the psoas can have negative implications on digestion due to the relationship of the psoas muscle to the sympathetic nervous system, and based on clinical experience I don’t disagree.
The psoas muscle is one of my favourite muscles for a few reasons, the least of which is the mechanical reasons. A little known fact about me is that I will occasionally practice a technique called Applied Kinesiology. I pick and choose my spots because it can be a little odd for patients to experience. The basis of AK is using manual muscle testing to help determine areas of the spine that need to be adjusted, as well as identify muscle imbalances. Many things can cause these muscle imbalances, but one of the major premises behind AK is the relationship between muscles and organs, as well as muscles and meridians. I thought that it was the weirdest thing ever when I was first exposed to it, but I soon learned that it is an amazing diagnostic tool. AK is actually one of the reasons that I look at the psoas muscle as much as I do, since it led me to appreciate all the things that the psoas has a hand in.
The psoas muscle lies in the pelvic bowl, which is where energetic circulation originates. If you are at all aware of chakras, that is where the root chakra is. The psoas is the main muscle that will draw you into the fetal position, and it lies in the area that gives us our gut feelings. Yogis pay special attention to the psoas due to its position in relation to a few of the chakras. They have been referring to the psoas as the ‘muscle of the soul’. The psoas is also connected fascially to the diaphragm, which can mean that dysfunction of the psoas can lead to breathing difficulties, particularly when trying to belly breathe. If you are intrigued like I was by the relationship between the psoas and the chakras, I recommend reading “The Vital Psoas Muscle” by Jo-Ann Staugaard-Jones. It goes a little bit more in depth with explanations of the chakras, as well as detailing yoga poses that can help. The psoas is also important because of its reactive relationship to many other major muscles.
If a patient comes in and my examination determines that we need to look further at the psoas, there are a few muscles that I will look at as well. The main muscles that I will look at when there is dysfunction in the psoas are: piriformis, hip adductors (commonly referred to as the groin muscles), quadratus lumborum, neck flexors, and the diaphragm. There are a few other muscles that I will look at if I’m not getting the results I am looking for with the first bunch. I have commonly found that dysfunction in the psoas also results in some dysfunction of one or more of the muscles listed above. The dysfunction of either the psoas or the other muscle may be reactive, but it is important to determine the reason for the dysfunction. This is where my use of Applied Kinesiology comes in. I’m not going to delve in too deeply to how I go about determining the main issue, that discussion could be its own blog post. The important thing is to determine the reason for the dysfunction so that the appropriate steps can be made to correct it. Ensuring that the psoas is functioning correctly is imperative, especially in light of all the functions it serves.
My personal opinion is that the psoas is one of the most important muscles in the body. It’s considered part of our deep core, is a spinal stabilizer, is a main player in locomotion, and can be a compensatory muscle in the case of pelvic floor dysfunction. This muscle has a role in so many different functions, and it seems as though there are new theories coming out fairly often. Making sure that this muscle is healthy is of the utmost importance, but the first step is determining what the problem is. I consider myself an anatomy nerd at heart, and the psoas muscle is one that continues to intrigue me.
*As usual, this blog is merely for educational purposes and should not be used for diagnostic purposes.