One of the strongest and most important muscles in our entire body is the Psoas (pronounced So-As). The Psoas attaches to your spine on the anterior side (belly button side) and runs down through the pelvis and attaches to the top of the femur bone. It is the only muscle that truly connects your spine to your legs, giving you your posture, balance, stability, and movements of both upper and lower body. This muscle is extremely deep in your core area and lies beneath so many other layers of muscles that it is not easily palpable and can affect your organs and emotions, as well as the muscles in the body.
So what does the Psoas do? The Psoas muscles consist of both slow and fast twitching muscles and are major flexors. The Psoas allows you to:
The Psoas is also connected to your breath as the diaphragm and Psoas muscles are connected by fascia, and the tendons attaching the diaphragm to the spine is right next to the beginning attachments of the Psoas muscle. This means that any time your breath quickens from excitement, fear, or stress, your Psoas muscles will contract.
When your Psoas muscles are constantly in a state of contraction, the results cause the muscles to become shortened and tight, causing pain and limit your range of motion and make movements more difficult. Any prolonged sitting, long distance running or walking, cycling, doing sit-ups, frequently weight training, and even sleeping in the fetal position at night can cause your Psoas muscles to become tight.
Often times muscular imbalances are caused from either the Psoas muscles being too tight or too weak. If you have been sitting for too long and you stand up, you may find yourself bent over a little when you first get up and may even experience some lower back and hip pain. Do you find yourself grabbing your low back and limping a few steps before you can fully straighten up? That is a tight Psoas muscle causing this postural imbalance. Also, if you go on a big hike or snowshoe trek and find that it is difficult or even painful to continue to lift your legs up miles into the trail or when you are heading back to your car, making you limp in discomfort, that is an overused Psoas that needs to relax. People who have more of a sway back often time have a weak Psoas. Their Psoas muscle is not strong enough to pull the body back into an upright posture, allowing their hips to rotate forward in over extension and giving the sway back and even causing a little bit of a duck waddling walk.
Here are some signs that might mean you could have a Psoas muscle imbalance:
Here are some tips on how to help get your body back in balance:
When your Psoas muscles are out of balance, it can cause a lot of back and hip pain. It can make getting up and down and even bending over difficult. It can cause you to limp, and it can make you have postural imbalances, throwing your center of gravity off. The Psoas muscles is one of the most important muscles in the body. It connects your upper body and spine to the lower body and legs. It is a pivotal muscle that flexes and rotates your spine, hips, and legs. Be aware of your Psoas muscles and take care of them. Whether the muscles need to be relaxed or strengthened, bringing balance back to the body is important. You will be able to move more fluidly and pain free with a happy Psoas.
If you have ever experienced a deep, nervy or tingling, pain that starts in the buttocks and may run down through your hamstrings and even all the way down to your foot, there is a good chance that you may have Piriformis Syndrome. Piriformis Syndrome closely resembles the symptoms of a more well-known condition known as Sciatica. The main difference between the two is usually the source of the pain. The pain from Sciatica often comes from the lower back region of the spine, where Piriformis Syndrome is caused from the Piriformis muscles itself.
Piriformis Syndrome is a neuromuscular condition that is caused when the Piriformis muscle, in your buttocks, compresses the Sciatic Nerve that runs directly under it. The Piriformis muscle is a pear-shaped muscle that lies deeper below the Gluteal Muscles and runs from the pelvis to the outer portion of the hip. The Piriformis rotates the hip outward, making the thigh, knee, and foot point outward. Think of a ballet dancer with their legs turned out or doing pirouettes, or a person doing the tree pose in yoga. Your Piriformis helps rotate your hips and legs into this outward rotation. When your Piriformis is over worked or injured, it can cause the muscle to spasm and tighten up. When this happens, the muscle compresses the Sciatic Nerve, causing pain, tingling sensations, and numbness in the buttocks and down into the hamstrings.
Common symptoms of Piriformis Syndrome are:
Sometimes people will think that they have a problem with their hamstring muscles, when it is the hip and gluteal muscles that are tight and tender, not necessarily their hamstrings that is causing the pain they are feeling in their legs. If these symptoms sound like what you are experiencing, talk to your doctor to get a confirmed diagnosis of what may be causing your symptoms.
If you do have Piriformis Syndrome, you will most likely get referred to a Physical Therapist, who will work with you and recommend some stretches and exercises to help reduce the severity of the tight and spasming Piriformis muscle. You may also get a referral to receive massage therapy and acupuncture treatments in conjunction with your physical therapy treatments. Both are great at relieving pain and relaxing tight and spasming muscles. It is highly recommended to do the gentle stretches and strengthening exercises that the Physical Therapist prescribes for you at home. Using heat and/or ice packs on the piriformis is also a common home remedy that is recommended during pain. Ice will help reduce any inflammation and heat can help warm up and relax the muscle.
In more severe and chronic cases, injections and even surgery may be recommended by your doctor. Hopefully between the stretches, exercises, massage therapy or acupuncture treatments, with some self-care at home, you will not have to get to that point. Remember, early detection and diagnosis is best, so do not hesitate to ask your doctor or see your physical therapist is your symptoms last more than week. Acute is easier and faster to address and treat than a chronic condition.
My last blog talked about the warning signs of reaching burnout. The mental, emotional, and even physical fatigue that can creep up on you and make something that you once enjoyed, something that you dread doing and leaves you feeling drained by the end of the day. So how do you prevent burnout from happening, or even stop it once you realize that you have reached burnout in your current situation? Self-care is very important in combating burnout. Below are some helpful tips on how you can work on putting the brakes on burnout.
If you practice all of these tips and you are still feeling fatigued and burned out, then maybe it is time to re-evaluate your situation. If you tried to pay attention to the warning signs and tried to put the brakes on burnout with little or no avail, maybe it is time to make a bigger change. You must decide if what you are doing is worth the stress and fatigue, or if it is time to call it quits and move in another direction. Is what you are doing more important or your health and happiness more important? We often get hung up on the financial side of things, but if we are in poor health, the cost of doctor bills and a shorter life span may not be worth the stress and money. You must decide if that is where you are at and make the best decisions for yourself. There is no easy answer. There is no right or wrong. It is what you deem important and manageable. Take care of yourself, practice self-care, and make the most out of your life to meet your needs.
Courtney Truax, LMT is a graduate of East West College of the Healing Arts in Portland, Oregon. She is licensed through the Oregon Board of Massage Therapy and a member of the American Massage Therapy Association. She has her own studio massage practice in the heart of downtown Lake Oswego, Oregon.