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Have Back Pain? It Could be Your Psoas Muscles

Updated: Nov 8, 2020

Does your back feel painfully taut with limited mobility, or do you have aching and burning pain in your groin or front thigh? This could be due to taut Psoas Muscles. The so-what? The "So-as". The psoas muscles extend from each side of the thoracic and lumbar vertebrae to the pelvis, joining here with its buddy, the Iliacus muscle, and then traveling down to insert on the upper leg, or the femur.

After my L5-S1 disc herniated, my hips kept rotating out of alignment and one leg became shorter than the other. From the herniated disc, my muscles went into spasms and tightened in a protective state. This included the psoas. These tight muscles were pulling my leg back into the hip socket, causing leg length discrepancy and even more back pain.

Pain, emotional and/or physical tension, back or abdominal surgery, scar tissue, repetitive motions like cycling can all tense the psoas muscles, causing reduced mobility and increased pain in the low back, pelvis, thigh, or knee area. It can also cause increased lumbar curvature (lordosis), irritable bowels. and even constipation. Think of how long the psoas is. It extends over many organs: the intestines, kidneys, liver, and spleen, to name a few. 

An imbalanced or tense psoas can also cause difficulty breathing, making it feel harder to get a full, complete breath. The psoas muscles are one group of muscles with which the diaphragm interlocks, as the diaphragm connects with the lower ribs. Both the psoas and the diaphragm influence core stabilization and proper breathing.

Because of its length, its position, and its importance in the body, this group of muscles can cause havoc when it is tight and shortened (or also when it is weak).

Ways To Make Your Psoas Muscles Happy Muscles

1. Take breaks from sitting. Sitting for prolonged periods of time can tighten the psoas.

2. Strengthen other core muscles, such as your glutes/butt muscles, so the psoas muscles do not have to overwork. A great exercise is the glute bridge.

3. Do not overdo crunches and do not have your feet held down when performing sit ups because it adds strain to the psoas. Too many crunches may tighten and shorten muscles and cause spinal compression. Instead, try a variety of abdominal exercises, including planks, squeezing a ball between the thighs, or other exercises where the pelvis remains neutral.

4. Massage. Manual therapy can help release and lengthen the psoas. Massaging the psoas can be a little painful, but afterwards, it feels great.

5. Place a pillow under your knees when sleeping on your back. Tight psoas muslces can pull on your back and cause it to arch, but a pillow under your knees will provide some slack to this muscle group and relax your back.

6. Relax. When you feel stressed, your muscles tense. This also includes the psoas muscles. Imagine tense psoas muscles and how much territory in your body they cover. That creates a lot of tension throughout your abdomen, the core of your body, your back, your pelvis and hips, your legs, down to your knees.

If your psoas muscles are really tight and painful, start with these gentle psoas releases before moving on to yoga poses and stretches for the psoas and hip flexors. Lie down in these positions for five or more minutes while deeply breathing in and out, imaging the deep psoas muscles relaxing, letting go of tension. 

Rest your lower legs on a chair. With bent knees, have knees Rest your leg on your opposite

Relax & breathe. Image your rest into one another for knee. This should feel effort-

breath moving into & out from. support. Keep your back flat less, not like you are holding

your deep psoas muscles, on the floor. For several mins. up your leg. This position

bringing them oxygen, relaxing. breathe deeply, relaxing and provides slack in your psoas

them, & releasing tension from. imagining your psoas letting muscles, allowing time for

them & down into the floor. tension go & lengthening. your psoas to relax.

7. Yoga & Stretching. If you do a lot of biking or running, which requires repetitive hip flexion, try adding in some more activities and stretches that deemphasize hip flexion and emphasize hip extension. Here are some stretches and yoga poses I find helpful to stretch out and lengthen my tight psoas muscles and other hip flexors.

Beginner to Advanced Psoas Stretch

Beginner: Lie down with back flat and bring knee to chest with other leg extended on floor and imagine reaching out through that foot.

Intermediate: Bring buttocks to side edge of bed or couch but maintain contact for support. Hang leg off side of bed or couch, with foot touching the ground for support. Do not over arch back. Advanced: Bring buttocks to end of bed or surface, but maintain glute contact on surface for support. Hang leg off of edge of surface without floor to support foot for greater stretch.

Hold stretch for 60 seconds or more. other leg.

* Keep back flat on surface. Do not over arch back.

Beginner to Advanced Cobra Pose

Lie down on your stomach. Bend your elbows and put your hands flat on the ground even with your chest. You may wish to place a folded towel under your pubic bones/lower abdomen for added support. Gently squeeze your glutes, then press down and raise your head and upper body, keeping your hips on the floor. Imagine reaching out from your head, lengthening your spine. Beginner: Maintain less than a 90 degree bend in your elbows to not over extend your back while you lift your rib cage off the floor and maintain floor contact with your lower abdomen. Do not look up and strain your neck. Advanced: Fully extend your arms with thighs activated and off ground.

Hold this position for approximately 10 to 30 seconds.

*Note: This is not recommended if you have back pain from spondylolisthesis or herniated disc where extension is contraindicated.


Keep your upper body straight, with your shoulders back. Always engage your core. Step forward with one leg, lowering your hips until knee bent at about a 90-degree angle with knee aligned over ankle. Rest hands on knee for support. Keep hips squared as your bring other leg back and slightly internally rotate thigh. Squeeze for added support. Hold 10 to 30 seconds. Repeat other side.

Pigeon Pose

Start on all fours in a table top position. Slide one knee forward toward your hand. Angle your knee to 11 o'clock for the left knee or 2 o'clock for the right knee.Do not overstrain. Slide your other leg back as far as comfortable while keeping your hips square to the floor and slightly internally rotate the thigh of the straightened leg. If your hips are not square, there will be unnecessary force on your back. You may wish to place a pillow under your extended thigh for support. Squeeze the glutes of this leg for support. Depending on how you feel, you will be upright on your hands while sinking the hips forward and down or bring forearms to ground and rest head in hands. To get full release in the hips, breathe and release the belly. Stay in this position anywhere from 10 to 30 seconds or longer. Repeat on other side.

Note: Please do not perform stretches or exercises without first consulting with your doctor. All stretches should be done to according what feels best for you, without pushing beyond your edge.

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