The psoas (pronounced so-az) muscle resides in the body's pelvic region, connecting the lower back to the upper thigh. It is essential for many different body functions, including allowing a person to bring their knees to their chest. Because of its crucial placement in the hip area, the psoas can be to blame for a number of body ailments, so it’s important to make sure you are stretching it properly.
"The psoas is being blamed for about every type of pain imaginable right now — back pain, hip, pain, leg pain, IT band syndrome, etc." says Sam Ianetta, ACPT, a trainer and founder of Functional Fitness in Boulder, Co.
Since flexing the hip is one of the main functions of the psoas, people use this muscle not only in sporting events but in daily life. It’s integral for walking, going up and down stairs, and even sitting down. Essentially, any activities which require the flexion of the hip utilizes the psoas.
What Can Cause Psoas Pain or Injury?
"When [the psoas] is not working well, it is a major problem for anyone," says Iannetta. The muscle can cause pain for several different reasons. Tightness and shortness of the muscle are the most common pain triggers.
A person with a short psoas muscle can find limitation as well as pain in their hip movements. Iannetta warns that sitting for extended periods of time can shorten the psoas, causing the muscles to tense and remain tense. People who live more sedentary lives or work at their desks for hours on end are at a higher risk for psoas pain or injury.
Injury of the psoas can greatly interfere with a person’s daily life, and make even the simplest actions a challenge. "Often, lifting the leg up as if to step up a staircase will cause psoas pain if it is acutely injured," says Iannetta.
How Are Some Stretches for Psoas Pain?
So what's the best way to stretch your psoas to avoid pain or injury? Iannetta suggests the following methods:
Standing Stance Pelvic Tilt
- Stand up straight with good posture, chest pointed up and shoulders back.
- Push your pelvis back and under.
- Hold this pose for 10 to 20 seconds.
Ground Bridge with Pelvic Tilt
- Lay down on your back with your knees up and arms on the ground.
- Lift your pelvic region into the air, tucking it under.
- Hold this pose for 5 to 10 seconds.
- Lower your pelvis back to the ground.
- Repeat as many times as your comfort will allow.
A variation on the ground bridge pelvic tilt can be done with an exercise ball. The idea is the same, but instead of bending the knees, a person rests their feet on ball, forming an acute angle with the ground. You then lift your pelvis upward in the same motion as the ground bridge and hold it. This exercise is a bit more challenging than the other two.
In addition to these pelvic stretches for the psoas, both yoga and Pilates offer different stretches designed to stretch the psoas. Certified Pilates and fitness instructor Kim MacKenzie, owner of Fitness with Kim in Burbank, California, offers another stretch to stimulate your psoas:
- Place your right foot forward with your left knee on the ground, and inhale.
- Push your left hip forward while trying to tuck your pelvis, while exhaling.
- Inhale while stretching your left arm into the air overhead, leaning slightly to your right.
- Breathe deeply and repeat with the other leg.
Whether you’re a fitness fiend or someone who spends hours on end at your desk, these stretches should help you avoid the pain and complications that come with an underutilized psoas muscle.