Stretching the Psoas

The Psoas Explained

By Amanda Mazzocchi, NCTMB

Catalyst Sports and Injury Massage

The psoas—said SO-AZ—is one of the most inaccessible and problematic muscles in the body.  If you’ve ever been the recipient of psoas therapeutic massage, you’ll agree that it is a memorable experience.

The psoas muscle is located on the front side of the lumbar spine on the upper end, attaching to all of the lumbar vertebrae.  It then makes its way through the pelvis, joining with another muscle which lines the pelvis named “iliacus”, and inserting finally at the inner upper femur (thigh).  Because of its joining with iliacus it is often called the “iliopsoas”, but its most common alias is “hip flexor”.

As is typical with soft tissue, psoas issues almost never manifest themselves with pain in the abdominal region.  They are deep, forceful muscles that cause deep pelvic imbalances and cause other types of symptoms (often very severe) such as: low back pain, hip pain—either down the side of the hip or in the sacroiliac (SI) joint, glute pain, hamstring pain, IT band pain, groin pain, and loss of range of motion in hip joint.

As its name would imply, when the hip flexors are contracted, they flex the hip—or raise the leg up in front.  Psoas dysfunction can easily occur when a person spends a great deal of time in a seated position, such as working a desk job, or frequent driving or traveling.  Because the hips are essentially in a flexed position much of the time, the psoas becomes very shortened.  To take this to the next level, crossing one leg over the other while seated shortens the psoas on the top leg even more.  A person with psoas issues will experience pain upon standing after being seated for a while.  The stretching of the shortened psoas will put a pull on the lumbar spine and pelvis and cause back or hip pain.

In addition to massage therapy, which is highly effective at treating psoas dysfunction, there is a two-fold approach to hip flexor treatment at home.

#1 Stretching of the psoas

(click images to view larger image)

Perform whichever of these stretches creates a deeper stretching sensation across the front of your hip.  To deepen the stretch on either, perform a pelvic tilt.  Hold the stretch for a minimum of 30 seconds, and repeat on the other side.

Stretch 1: Runners Stretch

  • Kneel on one knee and put one foot in front.
  • Transfer your weight onto the front foot and push your hips forward, until you feel a stretch along the front of your hip.
Psoas Stretches - Runners Stretch

Psoas Stretches - Runners Stretch

Stretch 2: Table Stretch

  • Stand beside a table, bed, arm of a couch, or some surface slightly lower than hip level.
  • Lift one leg up onto the table behind you, then sink into the stretch, with your hips square, until you feel a stretch along the front of your hip.
Psoas Stretches - Table Stretch

Psoas Stretches - Table Stretch

#2  Correction of Anterior Pelvis

As discussed, the tight psoas essentially keeps the pelvis in a semi-seated position.  When standing, this results in a forward-tilting pelvis.  One way to correct this is to stretch this psoas.  The only other way is to strengthen the muscles which pull the pelvis backward out of that tilt.  This muscle group is the hamstrings.  They are the only muscles which pull the pelvis down in the back.

Please click here for hamstring strengthening exercises.

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