My Psoas? WHAT Muscle?


Posted by Coach Patty Collins

The psoas muscle (pronounced SO-as) may be the most important muscle in your body. Without it you could not even get out of the bed in the morning!

In fact, whether you run, bike, dance, practice yoga, or just hang out on your couch, your psoas muscles are involved. That’s because your psoas are the primary connectors between your torso and your legs. Many of us had not heard of our psoas muscles unless we had lower back pain or hip pain. When I learned just how important it was, I wondered why my Junior High biology class never covered this. It’s not in any catchy tune like “The hip bone’s connected to the thigh bone”.  Maybe it should be. “The psoas muscle is connected to….everything I want to do”

The psoas muscles are made of both slow and fast twitching muscles. Because they are major flexors, weak psoas muscles can cause many of the surrounding muscles to compensate and become overused. That is why a tight or overstretched psoas muscle could be the cause of many of our aches and pains, including low back and pelvic pain.

The psoas muscles also support your internal organs and work like hydraulic pumps allowing blood to be pushed in and out of your cells.

So, not only is our psoas important to us physically, but also to our psychological well-being because of their connection to our breathing.


We have two tendons for the diaphragm that extend down and connect to the spine alongside where the psoas muscles attach. One of the ligaments wraps around the top of each psoas. Also, the diaphragm and the psoas muscles are connected through fascia that connects the other hip muscles. Those connections literally tie together your ability to walk and breathe, and also how you respond to fear and excitement. So when we are startled or under stress, our psoas contracts. For those of us who practice yoga, especially yin, the familiar words of our yogis telling us “We store stress in our hips” actually means something! We do!

During prolonged periods of stress, our psoas is constantly contracted. The same contraction occurs when we sit for long periods of time (guilty), engage in excessive running (guilty), ride a bicycle (guilty) or sleep in the fetal position. These activities compress the front of our hip and shorten our psoas muscle. This doesn’t necessarily mean we should stretch our psoas if we have pain in the front of our hip joint. The key is to know whether your psoas is short and tight, or if it’s weak and overstretched. When we have a tight (or short) psoas muscle, we may experience pain in our lower back or in our hips, especially when lifting our legs. Stretching our muscles and releasing the tension on the psoas is the best way to prevent this from happening. It takes time and daily attention to keep your psoas muscles relaxed, stretched, and strong. 

Here are a few ways to tell if you have a psoas muscle imbalance:

  1. Leg length discrepancy. A tight psoas muscle can cause your pelvis to rotate forward.  This in turn can cause an internal rotation of your leg on the affected side. The opposite leg will rotate externally in an effort to counter-balance. This will make the affected leg longer so that every time you take a step, it drives your leg up into your hip socket.  This can lead to functional leg length discrepancy.
  2. Knee and low back pain. If you experience knee or low back pain with no apparent cause, it may be coming from your psoas muscles. When your femur is in essence locked into your hip socket due to a tight psoas muscle, rotation in the joint can’t occur.  This can cause your knee and low back to torque.
  3. Poor Posture. When your psoas is too short or tight, it can pull your pelvis into an anterior tilt, compressing the spine and pulling your back into hyperlordosis. If your psoas is overstretched or weak, it can flatten the natural curve of your lumbar spine creating a “flat butt.” Tight hamstrings pulling down on the sitting bones characterize this misalignment, which causes the sacrum to lose its natural curve and results in a flattened lumbar spine. This can lead to low-back injury, especially at the intervertebral discs.  You may also feel pain at the front of your hip. Finally, it is possible for our psoas muscles to be both tight and overstretched. In this case, your pelvis is pulled forward in front of our center of gravity, causing your back to curve (swayback) and your head to poke forward.
  4. Difficulty moving your bowels. A tight psoas muscle can contribute to or even cause constipation. A large network of lumbar nerves and blood vessels passes through and around the psoas muscles. Tightness in the psoas muscles can impede blood flow and nerve impulses to the pelvic organs and legs. In addition, when the psoas is tight our torso shortens decreasing the space for our internal organs. This affects food absorption and elimination.  As such it can contribute to constipation.
  5. Chest breathing. A tight psoas muscle can create a thrusting forward of the ribcage.  This causes shallow, chest breathing, which limits the amount of oxygen taken in and encourages over usage of our neck muscles.
  6. Feeling exhausted. Your psoas muscles create a muscular shelf that our kidneys and adrenals rest on. As we breathe properly our diaphragm moves and our psoas muscles gently massage these organs, stimulating blood circulation. But, when the psoas muscles become imbalanced, so do your kidneys and adrenal glands, causing physical and emotional exhaustion. According to Liz Koch, author of The Psoas Book, “The psoas is so intimately involved in such basic physical and emotional reactions, that a chronically tightened psoas continually signals your body that you’re in danger, eventually exhausting the adrenal glands and depleting the immune system.”


Here are some tips for getting things back in balance:

  1. Avoid sitting for extended periods. If you must sit, do so with good posture and be sure your hips are level or slightly higher than your knees. Avoid bucket seats and chairs without support for your low back. Try to get up and move around every hour.
  2. Add support to your car seat. Use a rolled up towel underneath your sit bones and/or behind your lumbar spine to keep the psoas and hip sockets released. If you are traveling long distances, stop every three hours to stretch and walk around for 10 minutes.
  3. Try Resistance Flexibility exercises. Resistance Flexibility exercises can do wonders for your fascia. To strengthen your psoas, lay on your back with your hips abutting the wall next to a door frame.  Raise one leg straight so that it is against the wall. (Your other leg will extend through the door way.) Bend your extended leg and using your hands to slow down the movement and create resistance, bring your bent knee toward your chest.  
Do this while also pressing your raised leg into the wall. Then reverse the motion of your bent leg. As you straighten it, continue to create resistance using your hands to push your leg out as your leg resists. 

  4. Get a professional massage. Getting a massage from a seasoned practitioner can help relieve a tight psoas muscle. Understand that this work is not the most comfortable, but can be of great benefit. In fact, getting myofascial release on a regular basis helps to keep your psoas, and all of your muscles, fluid. Yoga, especially yin, is a great way to restore balance to your psoas.
  5. Take constructive rest. The Constructive Rest Position (CRP) can relieve low back, pelvic and hip tension while it allows your entire body to come into neutral. Lay on your back with your knees bent and your feet on the floor hip-width apart and parallel to each other. Place your heels a comfortable distance from your buttocks . Do not push your low back into the floor or tuck your pelvis. Rest your arms over your belly. Let gravity do the work. Doing this for 10 to 20 minutes every day will release tension in your psoas muscles and help to reestablish the neuro-biological rhythms that calm and refresh.
  6. Pay attention to your pelvis! The length of the psoas determines whether or not your pelvis is free to move. To tell whether your psoas muscles are tight or overstretched, stand sideways by a mirror (or even better, have a friend take a photo of you from the side). Note the position of your pelvis. If you were to draw a line along your pelvis from back to front, that line should be pretty straight. 
If the line tilts downward, your pelvis is anteriorly rotated or moving toward the front of your body. This means that your psoas muscles may be short and tight. If the line runs upward, your pelvis is posteriorly tilted toward the back of your body. This means that your psoas muscles may be overstretched and weak.
  7. Release stress and past traumas. We store stress in our bodies. Tension in the hips is common and it’s usually not just caused by lifestyle, age and physical events, such as injuries or accidents, but also due to mental stress and unhealed traumas. Releasing stress daily can help keep your psoas healthy. Take a leisurely walk. Soak in a bath with Epson salts. Acknowledge your emotions, express and release them. Finally, get out and do something pleasurable every day!


Coach Patty Collins is a USAT Level 1 Coach, USAC Level III, and USMS Level II Coach. She is a Veteran having served 24 years in the Army with deployments to the Balkans, Iraq, and Afghanistan, retiring in 2015.  She joined Team MPI in Jan of 2017 shortly after competing in the Paralympics in RIO as a triathlete. A life long athlete, Patty began as a high school runner and switched to Triathlon in college and has dabbled in bike racing and kayaking. Patty's drawn to coaching because of its inherent reliance on developing relationships with athletes and establishing and sharing goals. She enjoys the process immensely and believes it's one of trust, confidence, life balance, goal setting, and joy along the way. Patty has one (adorable) son. Contact her at

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