Why the Psoas is a Muscle You Need to Know About

Below is a post I wrote in 2010 that I cross-posted from my old blog. I have had issues with my psoas before and I've written about it before! It's interesting to see my continued exploration of this muscle. Most recentlly, my psoas flared up again in mid-April 2016.

The psoas is a muscle you must absolutely know about. It's not an obvious muscle like your bicep or your hamstring. You might not even really know what it feels like when it's tight, overworked, or just unhappy because it is a muscle that lies very deep inside the body.

Some key facts about the psoas:

1. It connects your legs to your trunk by attaching from your lumbar spine to your femur bone. It's about the size of your forearm!

2. It is a hip flexor, which means it is used every time you walk, run, go up stairs, climb a hill, lift your leg, sit, or in any other way flex (or bend) at the hip.

3. Ida Rolf, famous founder of Rolfing, called the psoas "The Muscle" because it is involved in so involved in so many movements, postures, and processes of the body.

4. Psoas is your "fight, flight, or freeze" muscle. It is intimately connected to your nervous system. A lot of its contractile activity is not under your conscious control. It is the "startle" muscle that pulls you into a little ball when you are afraid or shocked. It is the muscle you'd use to run away from a threat, or kick if you had to fight an attacker.

5. Psoas is the "trust" muscle. It is incredibly sensitive to emotional states. Not only does this muscle have a mind of its own with its sensitive connection to our sympathetic nervous system, it is near two very important areas of the body that have to do with sexuality: the lumbar plexus (nerves involves in digestion, elimination, and sexuality) and the genito-femoral nerve, which if compressed by a tight psoas, may cause problems with sexual function.

Now that I have had a few run-ins with this very sensitive and communicative muscle, I'm starting to understand it better. I will definitely continue to write on this fascinating muscle.

What follows is what I wrote on it 6 years ago.

The Sensitive Psoas

Just over a week ago, a random sequence of events arrived at me confronting an injury that I did not fully understand. I went from having some slight pain and stiffness in the outside of my hip to not being able to sit up, bend down, or walk. I was limping and unbalanced. My gait was completely altered. I was fortunate enough to be seen by the amazing Hellerwork practitioner Anne-Marie Duschene the next day. She works at Art of Alignment doing bodywork for dancers, athletes, people recovering from injury, and anyone else who is up for a deeply intuitive and healing bodywork experience. I know Anne-Marie from the studio but doing bodywork is a very different way of knowing someone. Especially in the attuned, intuitive presence of a master, this work can allow you to feel the state of your being physically, emotionally, and spiritually. It can be very intense, but in the safety Anne-Marie provides, it's all good.

At this time, I thought something was wrong with my psoas, a long, deep postural core muscle that can be thought of as the top of the leg (for a far more in-depth look at this concept, this series entitled The Opinionated Psoas is fantastic).  I came to find out it was inflammation in the area around my greater trochanter (more anatomy geekery: the outside knob on the femur/thigh bone where leg muscles attach). Turns out there is a whole diagnosis of this condition: greater trochanteric pain syndrome. Since my psoas was not injured, but was responding to the things around it, I came to find out something about an entirely new part of my body that I would have never known was so complex. I also came to have even more respect for the sensitive psoas.

The psoas is something of a witness: never itself being directly involved, but transmitting information about the body with the expressive range of a violin. This amazing article sees the psoas as an organ of perception, more like a tongue than an anatomical muscle. It calls the psoas "the filet mignon of the human body: juicy, delicate, tender, and very responsive." There is even a book dedicated to the psoas, outlining the various roles of the muscle, including its connection to childhood conditioning and growth, the fear reflex, and labor and childbirth.

This is not the first time the psoas has literally called out to me by indicating pain or discomfort or an altered gait or something just off in that area. I have a feeling the psoas has some things to teach me. I will let you know what I discover!