Do you suffer from chronic lower back and hip pain? If the answer is yes, you may need to get to know your psoas muscle a little better.
1. What and where is the psoas muscle:
The Psoas is the muscle that connects your spine to your legs. The psoas muscle, or infinity muscle, “originates from the bodies of the vertebrae T12-L4 and the costal processes of the vertebrae L1-L5. (The muscle inserts at the lesser trochanter of the femur, as the iliopsoas muscle)” (Source 1). Iliacus muscle - runs from the iliac fossa to the lesser trochanter.” In other words, it begins at the thoracic vertebra (T12) extending through the Lumbar Vertebrae (L4) and connects at the at the femur (thigh bone).
2. Why is the psoas muscle so sensitive?
The psoas muscle may be sensitive due to its relation to proprioceptive function in standing or upright positions. This means the psoas is sending messages of the position and movement of the spine to the central nervous system. In addition, there are many nerves that pass through, around, and in the muscle itself. Here we are more easily able to understand the muscles relationship with stress.
3. Does psoas sensitivity really have a relationship with our emotional body?
YES! When you have an unbalanced (deregulated) nervous system and an unhealthy (tight or loose) psoas muscle you may experience symptoms of anxiety such as shortness of breath, heart palpitations, pain and fear due to the connection between the nervous system and fascial restrictions from chronic flexion (seated position) in the deep front line of the body.
“The connection between a deregulated nervous system and an unhealthy psoas muscle, being either tight and weak, or tight and overactive could cause symptoms of anxiety. For example, shortness of breath, heart palpitations, pain, and feelings of fear, which we see from the connection between the nervous system and fascial restrictions created by chronic hip joint flexion in the deep front line of the body. Here we see that traumatic experiences, such as a car accident, or simply sitting for too long in your chair at work can cause harm to the psoas muscle.”
In other words, when the hip is in a seated position (flexion) for too long we experience inflammation of the tissue (including nerve endings) around the muscle. The combination of hip pain and nerve restriction results in an expression of symptoms of anxiety. If you’re feeling anxious and you have chronic hip and lower back pain, your psoas may be the culprit.
4. We now understand that a constricted psoas muscle can cause symptoms of anxiety, but how does trauma manifest itself in lower back and hip pain if no injury or chronic flexion of the muscle is present?
The simple explanation, you’re holding subconscious tension in your hips. When you don’t allow your body the opportunity to release stress or trauma, that energy has to go somewhere...usually straight to your psoas, the deepest muscle of your core. What a seemingly perfect place to hide the stuff we don’t want to face. WRONG! It won’t just disappear, no matter how hard you try to make it. Instead of allowing release of this tension, we tighten our muscles creating more and more tension. Over long periods of time this storage of excess tension is expressed as chronic pain.
Why is the psoas muscle called the flight or fight muscle?
The psoas muscle plays an important role in the flight or fight response. This muscle receives signals from the central nervous system to curl up in the fetal position for safety or to flex and engage the legs to be ready for action. If your psoas muscle is always tight, it’s telling your body that it’s in a constant state of danger and fear. Receiving these non-stop flight or fight responses is taxing on your adrenal system and hormones. The overproduction of cortisol (the primary stress hormone) and others like adrenaline can lead to substantial health issues.
“...when stressors are always present and you constantly feel under attack, that fight-or-flight reaction stays turned on...The long-term activation of the stress-response system — and the subsequent overexposure to cortisol and other stress hormones — can disrupt almost all your body's processes. "
This puts you at increased risk of numerous health problems, including:
Memory & Concentration Impairment
Avoiding your psoas health can create a vicious cycle of ill health. If someone has experienced a severe trauma and is suppressing that trauma by holding subconscious tension in their hips, their body may be responding by increasing their stress hormones which may cause them to react further through an expression of anxiety and fear. These increasing levels of stress hormones begin to wreak havoc on the body causing more trauma and fear. This loop continues until work is done to control the body’s stress responses and release pent up tension from the body. That's why it's so important to learn healthy ways to cope with the stressors in your life.
Thoughts come Full Circle: Take care of your psoas muscle, and it will take care of you. Shamans call letting go of the flight or fight response as “releasing the tiger”. Are you ready?
If you're experiencing psoas discomfort: Check out our Interview with Physical Therapist, Laura Kaufman.
"As a PT, I absolutely recommend yoga and stretching to improve the body’s mobility." - Laura Kaufman PT, DPT
Author: Marlo Moments