So, what is the Psoas?
Your butcher probably knows this muscle better as the tenderloin, or filet mignon, but we’re not talking about our favourite cuts of pork today. The psoas is a long, slender muscle that stretches from the lower vertebrae to the top of the thigh bone. Together with its mate, the iliacus, they are known as the iliopsoas and are the primary muscles responsible for flexing the hip, whilst also playing a crucial role in stabilising the hip.
If you experience pain in the groin on running or walking uphill or climbing the stairs, you might be exhibiting symptoms of a tight or dysfunctional iliopsoas. You may also feel unable to take full-length strides or experience a tightness in the front of the hip when standing completely upright.
What are the causes of a tight or dysfunctional iliopsoas?
You’ve guessed it – the usual suspect; sitting for long periods, which causes the hip flexors to shorten and over time, the shortened position becomes the default position.
Secondly, running and not stretching the hip flexors sufficiently afterwards can cause tightness in all the hip flexor muscles. When you run, the iliopsoas contracts every time you lift your knee, and then stretches every time your leg swings back. Over an hour’s run, for someone averaging 180 strides / minute, that’s 5,400 contractions and extensions for each side. The iliopsoas takes a battering!
The third cause is excessive sit-ups! Along with the superficial rectus abdominis (the 6-pack muscle), when sit-upping you are also strongly engaging the iliopsoas from a short position to a fully contracted position. So yes, do work on your core, but there are more effective ways than sit-ups – try planking for starters – and if you do sit-ups, incorporate a hip flexor stretch afterwards.
Here’s a simple exercise to test whether you’ve got a tight iliopsoas.
Lie flat on the floor with legs completely straight. Bring one knee into your chest and hug it tight. Your other leg should remain flat on the floor with no sensation of being pulled bent. Try both sides – it’s common to feel a difference. If the flat legs bends, it is an indication of a tight iliopsoas.
The kneeling lunge stretch is a great way to stretch out all the hip flexors and I’d recommend doing it daily to anyone who sits excessively, regardless of whether you have symptoms! To do this, kneel on one knee with the front leg at a 90-degree angle. Now move your body forwards to create a stretch to the front of your thigh and groin. Now, engage your pelvic floor muscles and glutes and tuck your tailbone underneath you to tilt the pelvis backwards and flatten your back. As you lean forward, you should try to maintain that flattened back. You should feel the stretch deep in the front of your hip. To increase the stretch, raise your arm above your head on the side being stretched. I recommend holding for at least 30 seconds and repeat 2-3 times a day, although realistically just the once would be better than nothing
If you’re suffering from a chronically short psoas, a sports massage therapist should be able to perform a release!