The iliopsoas muscle group is made up of the psoas major, minor, and iliacus.
For now, we will focus specifically on the psoas (pronunced “so-az”). The psoas is made up of the psoas minor and the psoas major. However, it is interesting to note that the evolutionary process is causing the psoas minor to go extinct. The minor was important when we moved on all fours. Anatomically, it connects the pelvis to the femur, which does not assist in upright walking. So, when one hears the term psoas, one can safely assume that it is the psoas major that is being discussed.
The psoas is arguably one of the most important skeletal muscles in our body. It is the only muscle that connects the upper extremity to the lower extremity — spine to femur. The muscle is located near the body’s center of gravity, so it plays a major role in balance, activation of the central nervous system, and subtle energies.
The psoas is one bad ass muscle. It does some pretty amazing things:
- Structurally supports internal organs
- Forms the pelvic basin
- Stimulates intestines, kidneys, liver, spleen, pancreas, bladder, and stomach
- Balances the core
- Creates movement and flow to be transmitted throughout the body
- Bi-articulates (this means it moves 2 joints: SI joint and hip joint)
- Structurally connects to the diaphragm
Given its structural location and the interaction it has with the nervous system and the organs, it is extremely important to your overall wellbeing. The psoas is very connected to our emotions — so if you are feeling really stressed it is common for the psoas to tighten and eventually cause pain.
Some daily activities that can contribute to psoas dysfunction:
- Poor posture
- Muscle tightness caused by muscle overuse or underuse
- Physical, mental, or emotional fatigue
- Extensive standing, which can cause an overly swayed back, hyperextended knees, and hips to push forward
- Prolonged sitting with a forward head posture
Common complaints I hear from clients with psoas dysfunction:
- Lower back pain that often can spread throughout the back and into the hips
- Pain upon rising from sitting to standing position
- Pain twisting or leaning to one side
This muscle is simply magical. And, because it is one of the all-time most important muscles in your body, it is important to keep it healthy.
Here are a few easy ways to keep your psoas healthy:
- Relaxation activities
- Breathing exercises
- Changing sitting and/or standing positions often
- Stretching and flexibility work (a foam roller can be really helpful here!)
- Massage and bodywork
- Strengthening the abs, glutes, spinal erectors/stabilizers, and psoas if weakened
Interested in more information?
I personally love The Vital Psoas Muscle, by Jo Ann Staugaard-Jones.
Here’s a review of the book:
“This book has enlightened and assisted me in my own personal and professional evolutionary process, and I feel that any reader, after taking this journey with the author, will be able to add a layer of knowledge and enlightenment on their own path to a better understanding of optimal health and function.”
—Gary Mascilak, D.C., P.T., C.S.C.S