PILATES & THE PSOAS MUSCLE
There may be no muscle more core than the psoas muscle
If you find yourself shuffling more than usual, feeling a twitch or hiccup in your stride, you might have a psoas injury. If you're experiencing pain running uphill, walking up stairs, or doing any other activity that requires knee lift, you might have a psoas injury. If you have hip, groin, or glute pain, you might have a psoas injury. If your lower back is aching ... well, you get the idea.
Where Is it?
The psoas major is a large muscle that attaches at the bottom of the thoracic spine (T12) and along the lumbar spine (through L4), then runs through the pelvic bowl, down over the front of the hip joint, and attaches at the top of the femur (thigh bone). It is the only muscle connecting the spine to the leg.
How It Moves Us
In Pilates, the core is our powerhouse, providing us stability, and enabling us to move our body more efficiently. When we think about the muscles in our core, there may be no muscle more core than the psoas muscle (pronounced so-as). The psoas is not like many of the surface muscles we are familiar with. We can't see it, and most of us can't flex or release it at will, as we might a quad or bicep. It is a deep muscle, involved in complex moves through the core and lower part of the body.
The psoas is traditionally considered a hip flexor. Hip flexors are muscles that bring the trunk and leg closer together. Also a posture stabilizing muscle, the psoas assists in straightening the lumbar (lower) spine. Finally, in actions where one side contracts and not the other, the psoas aids side-bending.
Since the psoas is a muscle of flexion, exercises that incorporate those kinds of moves are said to strengthen it. When the leg is in a fixed position, the psoas helps flex the torso. A Pilates roll-up would be an example of such a move. When the torso is fixed, the psoas helps bring the thigh to the torso. Every time you lift your knee, the psoas contracts. When your leg swings back, the psoas lengthens. For a runner averaging 180 strides per minute, the left and right psoas each contract and lengthen more than 5,000 times during the course of an hour run. That's a lot of strain on a band of muscle that's only about as thick as your lower forearm.
The psoas also promotes good posture. Along with a coordinated team of core muscles--abs, obliques, lower back--the psoas helps stabilize your midsection and pelvis. If the muscle is compromised, either by injury or tightness, it inhibits movement bringing pain.
The psoas is tricky. It is like the chicken and egg thing--Is the psoas tight because of another problem, or is some other problem causing the psoas to tighten?" All issues of tightness, poor posture, weakness, and muscular imbalance should be addressed for successful resolution of a psoas injury. Whether a strained psoas leads to low back pain or an achy back triggers an injury to the psoas, the symptoms should be treated in tandem.
Pilates Tips for Strengthening the SI Joint and Psoas Muscles.
Pilates is a fantastic way to learn how to deal with SI Joint pain as it works to correct muscle imbalances that we have inflicted on our body through years of abuse. Twisting incorrectly, poor posture, trauma, injuries, etc. can all wreak havoc on our bodies over time.
Pilates exercises for SI Joint and psoas pain should include both the stretching of the muscles in the lower back and strengthening the muscles that support the pelvic floor, deep, and lower abdominal. In other words, we need to help them learn stabilization, as these muscles are our "powerhouse", providing stability for the SI Joint and the whole lumbar-pelvic girdle.
The first focus for SI Joint pain - a neutral spine
Work to stabilize your pelvis (hips), including the sacrum in proper alignment. It is important not to do these exercises in poor pelvic alignment, as you will be trying to stabilize the faulty posture which may have caused the problem in the first place! Try practicing some of the exercises below (which can be done anywhere) to help improve your posture:
1. Sitting: When sitting in a chair press your bottom right up against the back of the chair then stack the rest of your spine up over it. Feel your ears over shoulders, over your hip bones and your breastbone should be right over the pubic bone. Navel drawn in gently. Feel space between your ribs and pelvis (lumbar spine). Proper posture is the best way to reduce tension from sitting at work all day, on computers, driving, etc.
2. Lying down: A pelvic tilt or spine articulation is a great way to stretch, lengthen, and strengthen your core. Lying on a mat with your knees bent and feet hip width apart. Begin by taking an inhale and then exhale and roll off your tailbone, imprint your back, and roll all the way up to the base of your shoulder blades. Take another inhale and exhale and slowly, lay your spine back down on the mat, one vertebra at a time.
3. Standing: With your back up against a wall stand with your buttocks and shoulder blades leaning into the wall. Notice whether your lower back is against the wall or if there is an excessive arch there. The latter is more common. To achieve neutral keep the buttocks and shoulders against the wall and then draw (or imprint) the lower back into the wall. You should feel the abdominal muscles engage and/or the ribs drawing in. Release and repeat to flex your lumbar spine.
Always consult your doctor to assess sacroiliac joint pain and choose appropriate exercises for you.