A weak, short, or tight psoas muscle can hamper your movement and make regular things like walking or exercising difficult. It may also become short and tight from repeated use in exercises like bicycling, sit-ups, and some weight training exercises.
If you spend long hours sitting during the day or constantly deal with lower back pain, stretching your psoas muscle is a good idea. When your psoas muscle gets stiff from long periods of sitting or disuse, it can affect normal everyday activities. But once you have stretched out your psoas and the surrounding flexor and adductor muscles in your hip, you should feel much more limber and relaxed. Try it and you’ll see the difference!
Psoas Muscle Helps With Movement And Standing Upright
The psoas muscle connects your legs to your spine and is a very deep-seated muscle. It is joined at the lower back or lumbar spine vertebrae on one end, crossing to the outer edge of the pelvic bone/pubis and also connecting to the femur.
- It helps define posture, pulling your lower back vertebrae forward and down so it can bear the weight above it.
- It also helps transfer weight as needed to enable you to stand upright.
- It also plays a role in dynamic function or movements like walking – moving your rear leg forward after the front leg has stepped out, to create the characteristic walking motion.
- Apart from being one of the main hip flexors, it also stabilizes your lumbar spine, hip joints, and sacroiliac joints which connect the pelvic ilium bones and the spine supporting sacrum.1
Challenges With Psoas Muscle Stretches You Must Know Of
The psoas muscle is deep within and directly accessible only via the abdominal cavity. It is also located close to major arteries like the iliac and femoral and the lumbar plexus – all vital and sensitive parts of the body which, if wrongly manipulated, could cause serious problems. So, it is better dealt with by a good licensed soft tissue therapist who understands the anatomy of the body. Typical self-administered release techniques might also be hard initially.
That said, experts suggest working on releasing the surrounding muscles like the hip flexors to ease the pain and alleviate problems in those muscles. That way when a therapist helps you lengthen the psoas, tight tissues around it won’t interfere with stretching the psoas.2
The exercises that follow will help improve your awareness of the psoas and relieve tightness in the hip flexor and adductor muscles.They will make the muscle stronger, ease psoas muscle tightness, and could help restore your range of motion. They include supine, kneeling, and standing stretches as well as some yoga poses. If you have a foam roller, you can also incorporate some movements that use them as stretches.
1. Constructive Rest Position
You can use yoga and this posture to heighten your awareness of this deep-seated muscle. Here’s how you can get into this pose:3
- Lie down on your back with your knees bent at a 90-degree angle, feet flat on the floor, lined up hip-width apart about 12–16 inches away from your buttocks.
- Place your hands and forearms on your ribcage and relax. Alternatively, you can put them on your sides on the floor or on your pelvis.
- Now focus on your bones and how they support you. Notice their weight sinking downward into the floor. Be aware of any muscles that might be holding bones up due to muscular contraction. Let gravity pull the bones down.
- As your psoas begins to release, you should feel like the balance of weight is more evenly distributed in your body.
2. Supine Hip Flexor Stretch
From the rest position, you can now move on to the stretch. For this, remain in the supine position.4
- Extend your legs out flat on the floor so your toes point to the ceiling.
- Slide the left foot back and put it flat on the floor, knee bent. Your right leg must remain flat.
- Pull your shoulders back and down but take care that your back doesn’t arch and your hips don’t lift up off the ground. This is how they must be through the movement.
- Use both hands to hold your left thigh and pull the left knee to your chest, ensuring your right leg remains flat on the floor as you do this. Contract/squeeze your right buttock muscle and push your right heel into the ground.
- Hold this position for 30 seconds if you can, then straighten your leg. Repeat this 2–5 times and alternate legs before repeating again.
3. Kneeling Hip-Flexor Stretch
Your abdominal muscles should be fully engaged during this stretch so as to keep the pelvis level and maximize the benefits of the stretch. If you need an additional pad or mat below the knee, add that to prevent any soreness.5
- Start from a kneeling position to one where your left knee is below your left hip and the right knee is over your right ankle out in front, with the right foot flat on the floor.
- Place your hands on your right thigh to help keep the spine tall and straight.
- Keep your shoulders pulled back and down without arching the lower back. Engage your core muscles, stiffening the spine, and keeping the pelvis stable.
- Lean forward into your right hip, your left knee pressing firmly into the mat. Take care your pelvis doesn’t rotate forward. At this point, you may also choose to maximize the stretch on your left hip flexors by contracting the left hip glute (butt) muscles.
- Hold this stretch for 30–45 seconds and perform about 2–5 reps. Repeat on the other side.
4. Half-Kneeling Hip-Flexor and Adductor Stretch
This multidimensional, hip-opening stretch should help ease discomfort and improve general mobility.6
- Get down on a half kneeling position on a mat. Your right foot should be forward, the right foot flat on the ground in front of you, and the right knee bent so your shin is perpendicular to the ground.
- Bring your pelvis in so it is neutral to the spine in position. Hold this position to stretch the hip flexors for between 5 and 10 seconds.
- Now move your right foot out laterally at a 90-degree angle.
- Sink your hips to the knee and hold this adductor stretch for between 5 and 10 seconds. Bring your leg back to the center and knee down to the mat before raising the left leg up and in front.
- Repeat each stretch 10 times.
5. Standing Release (Pendulum Swing)
Releasing the psoas while standing is more difficult but one exercise can help. Get hold of a stable block which can support your weight. Place it about 12–16 inches from the wall so your arm can reach the wall comfortably when you stand on it.7
- Lift your left foot and leg onto the block so you are standing with the right leg suspended in the air. Use your right hand to support yourself by holding/leaning on the wall.
- Swing the right leg forward and back as if it is a pendulum. Don’t twist your torso or bend your trunk as you swing the leg.
- Now try and focus on the swinging motion deep inside your torso, feeling it start somewhere on the top of your psoas muscle behind the solar plexus – this is where your twelfth thoracic vertebra of the backbone is located.
- Step down after a few minutes of this. Notice any change in the sensation between the two legs. The swinging leg should feel releases, freer, longer, and more relaxed.
When you swap legs and swing the left leg for reps on that side, notice the right leg – it should feel like the weight is flowing directly into the block and you shouldn’t be leaning into that hip. Soften tension, if any, that you feel in your front hip socket.
Yoga Stretches That Help The Psoas Muscle
If you’re open to trying yoga, it can do plenty to ease the tightness in your psoas. Here are a couple of poses that you may find most beneficial.
Lunge Pose Or Anjaneyasana
This pose helps extend the hip muscles of the rear leg. Please note this is not the same as a regular lunge that you may be used to doing. This deep stretch also stretches your front thigh muscles or quadriceps which may also contribute to back pain. Avoid it if you have knee pain or have recently had surgery on your knee.8
- Get down on your hands and knees on a mat, with knees hip-width apart and hands lined up below your shoulder, palms flat on the mat.
- Exhale as you bring your right foot forward between your shoulders, so that it is slightly to the right of the midpoint between both hands. The right shin must now be perpendicular to the ground.
- Now straighten your back leg, pushing back through your left heel and your knee off the ground. Don’t let the back knee bend.
- Hold for 3–7 breaths. Return to start position by bringing your right knee back to the floor so you are back on all fours, knees bent.
Once the stretch is done, walk a little and bring your attention to the increased freedom of movement of the right hip joint.
Virabhadrasana I or Warrior Pose I
This pose strengthens your core and stretches your psoas.9 10
- Stand with your legs about 4-feet apart so your legs from an inverted V.
- Move your right foot out at a 90-degree angle and your left foot in by 15 degrees so your right foot heel is aligned with the center of your left foot.
- Raise both arms up to shoulder level, keeping them parallel to the ground, palms facing up.
- Exhale as you bend the right knee so that the right ankle and right knee are aligned – your knee must not jut out ahead of the ankle.
- Turn your head to the right and let your gaze rest on the tips of the fingers of that extended hand. Keep breathing.
- Deepen the pose by trying to push your pelvis further down gently, breathing comfortably as you do so.
- Inhale as you rise up. Exhale and bring your arms down to your sides. Repeat to the other side.
Once you learn to do this properly, move to the next phase which involves raising the arms overhead.11
- Stretch your arms from the outward position to over your head.
- Reach out with your fingertips as you bring the palms toward each other. Your arms should now be near your ears as they extend up.
- Hold for 30 seconds to a minute before returning to the start position as before.
Foam Roller Stretches
Foam roller exercises or self-myofascial release are great for easing soreness, relaxing muscles, correcting imbalances, and improving joint range of motion. They are typically done before a workout to help your tissue better lengthen so you can stretch better when you perform stretching activities.12
Hip Flexor And Psoas Muscle Stretch
Designed to stretch your anterior hip muscles like the iliopsoas (psoas along with iliacus muscle) and the hip flexor muscles, this is especially beneficial after you have done a lower body workout or if you tend to spend long hours sitting.13
- Place the foam roller below your pelvis, keeping your body perpendicular to the roller.
- Place your feet flat on the floor about hip-distance apart, knees bent.
- Your body is now resting on the head and upper back. Engage your abdominal muscles, raising the right knee and drawing it up close to the chest, hugging it in.
- Start to straighten your left leg, sliding it along the ground until it is completely straight.
- Take care not to let your back arch at any point and ensure your core is engaged so your pelvis has a slight posterior tilt.
- Hold this position for a few seconds.
- Now slide the left leg back, return the right leg to the original position, and repeat the movement on the other side.
Psoas Release With Variation On Psoas Muscle Stretch
A variation on the previous stretch, in this version, you extend your leg forward into the air instead of extending it by sliding it along the ground. As the name suggests, this stretch targets the psoas muscle, helping you ease the tightness.14
- Lie down flat on your back with your knees bent.
- Place the foam roller below your tailbone.
- Hug your right knee in as you did before.
- Only this time, instead of sliding the left leg along the ground, raise it forward into the air so that your spine and leg are aligned. Your leg will be at an angle to the floor, which is fine as long as the spine and leg are aligned.
Adductor Muscle Exercise
While not a psoas muscle stretch, this foam roller exercise targets and eases discomfort in the nearby adductor muscles, helping you overall with any stretches involving the psoas muscle. 15
- Lie face down and support your torso and upper body weight on your elbows.
- Place the foam roller below one thigh so that that thigh is flexed and abducted.
- Now roll the inner upper thigh area to the area that feels tender and hold the roller in place for between 30–90 seconds until it feels better and the discomfort is less.
- Swap legs and repeat on the other side.
|↑1||Arbanas, Juraj, Gordana Starcevic Klasan, Marina Nikolic, Romana Jerkovic, Ivo Miljanovic, and Daniela Malnar. “Fibre type composition of the human psoas major muscle with regard to the level of its origin.” Journal of anatomy 215, no. 6 (2009): 636-641.|
|↑2||Addressing the Psoas in NSAM Corrective Model. National Academy of Sports Medicine.|
|↑3, ↑7||Deepen Your Awareness To Release Your Psoas. Yoga Journal.|
|↑4||Supine Hip Flexor Stretch. American Council on Exercise.|
|↑5||Kneeling Hip-flexor Stretch. American Council on Exercise.|
|↑6||3 Stretches for Opening Up Tight Hips. American Council on Exercise.|
|↑8||Lasater, Judith Hanson. 30 Essential Yoga Poses: For Beginning Students and Their Teachers. Shambhala Publications, 2016.|
|↑9||Highland, Krista Beth, Audrey Schoomaker, Winifred Rojas, Josh Suen, Ambareen Ahmed, Zhiwei Zhang, Sarah Fink Carlin et al. “Benefits of the Restorative Exercise and Strength Training for Operational Resilience and Excellence Yoga Program for Chronic Low Back Pain in Service Members: A Pilot Randomized Controlled Trial.” Archives of physical medicine and rehabilitation 99, no. 1 (2018): 91-98.|
|↑10||Veerabhadrasana / Virabhadrasana – Warrior Pose. The Art of Living.|
|↑11||Blaine, Sandy. Yoga for Healthy Knees: What You Need to Know for Pain Prevention and Rehabilitation. Shambhala Publications, 2016.|
|↑12||Foam Rolling Applying The Technique Of Self-Myofascial Release. National Academy of Sports Medicine.|
|↑13||Inkster, Karina. Foam Rolling: 50 Exercises for Massage, Injury Prevention, and Core Strength.Skyhorse Publishing, 2015.|
|↑14||Knopf, Karl and Chris. Trigger Point Therapy with the Foam Roller: Exercises for Muscle Massage, Myofascial Release, Injury Prevention and Physical Rehab. Ulysses Press, 2014.|
|↑15||Foam Rolling Applying The Technique Of Self-Myofascial Release. National Academy of Sports Medicine.|