The human body is the best working machine there is; however, many are guilty of not operating it properly. One of the most common results of improper use and maintenance of the body is psoas imbalance, which is evident through an imbalanced body posture.
But it is not just that the body looks lopsided; another issue with psoas imbalance is that it comes with physical discomforts.
What is the psoas muscle?
This is the most essential muscle group in the body. It allows you to bend and flex your trunk so you can haul your body off the bed every day. This muscle group can be found in your core and the muscles are connected from the 12th thoracic vertebra to the L5 lumbar vertebra, through the pelvic region and femurs. Basically, they are the only muscles that run from the spine down to the legs.
Psoas muscles also help protect the internal organs and contribute to your psychological health.
What causes the imbalance?
When the psoas is constantly contracted due to stress, or when you often sit for a long time, work out intensely regularly, sleep in a curled position, or even perform a number of crunches and sit-ups, an imbalance happens.
The surrounding muscles compensate for the compromised condition of the psoas and the pull of tight psoas muscles can make one leg shorter than the other, create a significant sway back posture, posterior tilt to the pelvis for some, and pains.
Why do athletes suffer from it?
If you are an athlete — say, you are a runner, a cyclist or a martial artist — there are movements that cause great strain on your iliopsoas muscles, the primary connectors between your torso and legs. When you run and do not shift your weight properly, or you spend hours bent forward to stay balanced on your bike, or you favour a leg for kicking when you do martial arts, your psoas muscles can spasm, tighten and weaken resulting in an imbalance.
Physical discomforts due to psoas imbalance
When the psoas muscles are weak and tight, sharp pains can accompany these discomforts and you can feel them in the following areas:
- Hip or pelvic area (if a psoas imbalance is not treated properly and right away, the pain in this area may lead to the loss of hip joint cartilage and labrum tears of the hip joint)
- Lower back — right at the waist and the knees (especially when the leg is lifted)
Other discomforts you may experience due to psoas imbalance are:
- Dysmenorrhea/menstrual cramps
- Shallow breathing (which means that the body many not be taking in enough oxygen)
- Easy exhaustion (difficulty in breathing and pressure on the internal organs can make a lot of movements physically draining)
Sports Massage is one treatment option for psoas imbalance that may be considered.
Managing psoas imbalance in athletes
According to a study published in The Journal of the American Osteopathic Association, psoas imbalance or syndrome can be easily missed during diagnosis because its symptoms are similar to other conditions.
Thus, the first step toward managing and treating psoas syndrome is getting the correct diagnosis.
The treatment and management of the psoas muscle can be divided into three phases: the acute, recovery and maintenance phases.
Your main goals here are to reduce the symptoms you are experiencing (including spasms, swelling and pain) and to restore a sense of normalcy to your daily living. In order to achieve both goals, you may need to combine medication with lots of rest, gentle stretching and the application of an ice pack.
At this stage, it is crucial to avoid activities that can further stress the affected muscles. Stretching should be done gently and must be avoided after the application of cold compress.
Psoas muscle rehabilitation
The primary goal of rehabilitation is to restore the normal range of motion, strength, endurance and other activities specific to your sport. This can be achieved through stretching and exercise.
At this stage, you can also begin a resistance training program using weights or resistance bands. For endurance, you have to work your way slowly using exercises like cycling and stair climbing on a machine using a low volume of resistance.
During the maintenance phase, your main goal would be to strengthen the muscles affected by psoas syndrome in order to boost performance. At this point, you can perform the exercise you did during the rehabilitation phase and combine these with exercises that target the hamstrings and iliopsoas. Resistance should be increased every third or fourth workout.
You can facilitate faster recovery by cross-training in other sports including skating, cycling and dancing.
Preventing psoas musle weakness while boosting performance
Apart from preventing psoas syndrome, strengthening the muscle group can lead to enhanced athletic performance.
Exercises like leg lifts, hanging leg lifts, low lunges, v-sits, bridges and reverse planks may be performed before your main workout or after it.
Incorporating sports massage
If you are suffering from a psoas imbalance, you cannot opt for traditional massage therapy. Most therapists cannot target the affected muscles because of their location, and are unaware of the proper techniques required in working on the psoas.
Therapists that specialise in sports massage in London can help relieve tension in the psoas muscle while aiding in the increase of flexibility and restoration of movement by utilising specialised techniques.
The psoas muscle is crucial not only for sports but also for the movements required for most daily activities. Therefore, it is essential that this muscle group is strengthened and stretched. If you experience any of the symptoms associated with psoas syndrome, consult a physical therapist or qualified massage therapist to help fix the problem.
About the Author
Ben has been a practical pain management trainer and a celebrated massage therapist. He believes human well-being is deeply connected to the health of mind and body both, including deep tissues.
He holds numerous certifications for best of breeds massage techniques helping him on a mission for healthy London and then rest of the world. He has been an active contributor in massage technique research and on Massaggi blog.