Muscle of the month: Iliospoas
The iliopsoas is actually a combination of two muscles, psoas major and the iliacus muscle. It spans the area of the lower back and the inside of the hip bone, and then crosses the hip joint where it inserts onto the top of the femur. Pain may occur along any area of its length but is noted as a common source of low back and hip pain.
Actions: Flexion of the hip and trunk. Assists in lateral rotation of the hip.
The iliopsoas is a postural muscle, which means it is less likely to fatigue but more likely to become taut with overuse. When we sit for long periods of time, our hip is forced into a shortened position, thus over engaging the iliopsoas. Without proper care, the fibers will adapt, leading to pain in the lower back, hip and upper thigh region.
Common pain culprit: Sedentary lifestyle. Sitting for long periods of time. Repetitive flexion of the hip through activities such as running, squatting, cycling or climbing stairs.
Iliopsoas is commonly stuck in a shortened position by our tendency to sit for a large portion of our day, whether at work, in the car, or at home on the couch. The shortening of this muscle can affect our posture, as it pulls on our spine, cramping the joints of our low back and hips together. With all this tension, trigger points are likely to develop, causing referred pain into the low back and front of the hip. If not treated, a shortened iliopsoas can also lead to pelvic and sacroiliac joint dysfunction, as it creates torsion of entire pelvic region.
The fix: Limit time spent seated, stretch, and massage.
If your occupation causes you to be seated at a desk, try to stand when you can, even if it’s just a quick trip to refill your water bottle or a walk during your lunch break. You should also take time to perform stretching exercises throughout your work day. The following stretches utilize your office chair to free your hips and lengthen your iliopsoas.
Standing office chair iliopsoas stretch:
Start by standing near your chair. Place your foot and ankle on the seat of the chair. Notice if your hips are rolling forward. If so, try to assume a more neutral posture, by tucking your tailbone. Hold for one minute and repeat each side.
Lunging office chair iliopsoas stretch:
Arrange your body so that half of your buttock is on the chair to provide stability. With your opposite side, extend your hip backwards until you feel a comfortable stretch at the front of your hip. Ellen is performing a variation of this exercise by balancing her weight on the tip of her toes. You can also try this stretch with your foot arranged sole up, or supported on a pillow or cushion- however you are most comfortable. Hold for one minute and repeat each side.
Iliopsoas is a deep abdominal wall muscle – its bulk is not visible, as it lies beneath thick layers of abdominal muscles and fascia. Relaxation of these structures is required to access the muscle therapeutically. Because of this, massage therapy is an ideal treatment option. Your RMT can calm all the tissues above iliopsoas, and work with your breath to massage deep into the muscle, decreasing trigger points, eliminating tension, and elongating the muscle fibers with stretching techniques.