When you’re on a deadline, hunched over your computer, seldom taking bio breaks much less stopping to stretch or relax your eyes, your body will take its revenge. My fellow desk jockeys, if your back hurts or – randomly enough – if you have hip pain or any other sort of old person pain that’s far ahead of schedule, it’s time to step away from the computer (just for a few minutes, I’m sure you’ll be fine), stretch, lengthen, and establish some healthy behavior.
A few months back, especially as I was getting out of my car and walking to the door of my office in the morning, my hips began aching. Was it a sign that I subconsciously hated my job? How would I explain it to my doctor? “Hey doc – my hips hurt. No, no injury, no trauma, no exercise, nothing out of the ordinary.” Was this the beginning of the end? I immediately slipped into a downward mental spiral, convincing myself I was aging at an exponential rate.
I went for a massage shortly thereafter to try to ease whatever it was, and as soon as I mentioned that my hips hurt, the therapist asked me how long I sit at a desk each day? A s***-ton. She loosened me up considerably and told me about the psoas muscle, or iliopsoas. She said I could address it through stretching every day, or she could loosen it by digging in my hip bone and massaging the muscle, which she warned me would hurt.
Shortly thereafter, I joined Yoga International and began taking a course about the psoas with yogi Sandra Anderson. She explained that the psoas is one of the longest muscles in your body, which is rooted at the front of your spine and goes up to the thoracic vertebrae (behind your diaphragm), down the lumbar, curving inwards through the pelvic bones, where it joins the iliacus muscle and attaching to the femur – basically it runs from the small of your back, through the hips, to the inner thigh. It’s responsible for moving your legs, stabilizing the front and sides of your spine, integrating movements, and absorbing shock as you walk.
I’m no doctor, so if you have any pain or difficulty moving, by all means, consult with a medical professional. These are simply some things to consider or to discuss with a medical professional if you have similar patterns or issues.
When your back hurts, what are the signs it might be psoas distress?
“Anytime there’s generalized low back pain, the PSOAS is almost always involved,” Anderson says. If you have an exaggerated curve in your lower back or if you bend too far forward at the waist, if there’s discomfort or achiness, or shallow breathing, chances are your psoas is working too hard. Also, if your glutes are weak, or you have trouble extending your leg backward, you probably have a tight psoas.
What’s causing tightness in your psoas?
The two most notable causes of psoas tightness are stress and lifestyle. “Too much sitting and exercise that doesn’t influence elongation, and unmanaged stress and bad breathing patterns that go along with that,” make for a dull psoas, Anderson reminds us.
Stress: the diaphragm – the muscle that helps you breathe – is tied to the psoas, both in proximity and in function. Most people have (at least) low-level stress or anxiety which changes breathing patterns and contracts or shortens the psoas.
Lifestyle: if you’re a desk jockey like me, spending 9 hours sitting at work, and then coming home, cooking dinner and seeing to the kiddos and then sitting down to more work or TV, or some such combination, you’re not lengthening or stretching the psoas, and it gets used to being contracted. This causes bad posture and pain.
So how can you make your psoas happy?
Stay hydrated: I think water is the cure to most minor health issues, but particularly when mobility is concerned. Keep your joints and muscles functioning properly, and drink lots of water.
Relax: the Yoga International course emphasizes that “Our emotional life is the impetus that creates the tension in the psoas. The psoas is very tender and responsive to our emotional experiences.” Physiologically, if your diaphragmatic breathing patterns are affected, your psoas will be affected. Do things that balance the nervous system like breathing exercises, meditation, yoga, outdoor activity, or anything that gets you to a happy place.
Stand up straight: watch your alignment and stand tall, but especially be conscious of posture when you’re sitting. Elongating your muscles while sitting will allow them to move freely, rather than being focused on steadying the spine.
Strenghthen your muscles: for some of us, most of the day we end up sitting so if your musculature is in proper form, it can handle the abuse a little better. There are Yoga International courses and articles or you can ask a personal trainer or yogi to give you exercises to strengthen your hip flexors.
Stretch: take breaks to allow your spine, hip flexors, and nervous system to function per their job descriptions. Elongate your muscles as much as possible. The are great stretches specifically to elongate your psoas (see the link above, #notanad), but if you’re familiar with yoga, pigeon pose and deep lunges will give you a proper stretch of the hip flexors. Fair warning: it hurts good.
Does it work?
What can I say? I’m a work in progress. After many weeks of doing these things, I felt much better, and less tight in the hips, however, I still felt it in the morning. I went for another massage, and the therapist went for it, digging deep beneath my hip bones, and pressing on my psoas. It wasn’t that bad. Since then, I’ve been doing all the things above and haven’t had any problems. Despite the fact that I’ve been working harder and longer hours lately, being aware of my posture as I dive deep into my laptop has helped make me feel closer to my chronological age, and hobble a lot less… Um, maybe I need more yoga. Care to join? Pura vida and namaste.