Fitness column: Connection between psoas and the core
Psoas (soh-uhs) sounds like a terrible exotic disease that you could contract at the Summer Olympics, but it’s really just a muscle that can cause major back pain. The psoas is a deep lumbar/pelvic muscle that you can’t see — out of sight, out of mind. Nobody goes to the gym to “train their psoas.” When you tell little kids to make a muscle, they don’t flex their psoas.
In fact, I bet that you don’t even believe that you have something called a psoas — you’re Googling it right now, aren’t you?
People have written books about this magic muscle. Now I am writing an article about it to hopefully clarify what your psoas does and how it is causing much of your back pain. After reading this however, you will not be able to blame you co-workers, spouse, surgeon, in-laws or your trainer for your back pain.
The psoas (including iliopsoas and in some people there is a psoas minor) is the only muscle to cross over both the upper and lower body. It attaches your spine to your thighs while grabbing onto your hips for some stability. The psoas is like the one co-worker who is constantly overloaded because nobody else is doing their job.
This super-multitasking muscle will pick up the slack for a long time while the other muscles (like abs) do stuff like show up late or have their other co-worker (glutes) punch them in early when they are really just still at home enjoying more “back-pain medication.” Then, the overloaded super-employee gets sick and all hell breaks loose. None of the other co-workers can even remember how to do anything from using so much back-pain medication.
The psoas will help you keep going when other core and thigh muscles are over it. This is part of the problem. We start to rely on the one super employee so much that it weakens the rest of the staff. This is why everyone who attempts to help people fix their own back pain, tells them to strengthen their core muscles.
Not only do they have to be stronger, core muscles need to be in balance. Most people are very weak when they start a fitness routine, totally unaware of how easy it is to tweak a back during this critical period. They tend to reinjure the weakest link in their core while attempting to get it stronger.
They jump right into planks and sit-ups before strengthening glutes and hamstrings. This mistake is the way to finish off an already blown apart lumbar disk. The “couch to 5K” concept may sound great, but in reality, many people get injured thinking that they can jump right back into working out like they did in their 20s. Work your way into core strength slowly.
If we could only fix back pain just by doing a couple of hamstring stretches, we’d save over $90 billion per year. (Americans spend over $90 billion each year on back and neck pain and everyone’s hamstrings are still tight). In reality, it’s weak hamstrings and glutes that contribute to low back pain. You know that mysterious cramp you get in the back of your legs? That is often from muscle wasting from sitting on it instead of using it. Weak hamstrings and glutes cause dysfunction of the pelvis, which makes the psoas work too hard and overpower the hamstrings. This is like yelling at your number one employee for picking up the slack of your weakest employee instead of holding the weakling accountable.
I find that it’s mostly weakness that gets us into back pain. Repetitive stress (sacrificing our bodies to pay the bills) leads to weakness without restoration. We fix so many problems with properly targeted strength training it is silly. So silly that the majority of Americans will do anything but properly targeted strength training.
Your Emotional Psoas
Emotional strife will show up in your psoas. It is scientifically, spiritually and common-sensically proven that we physically express our emotions. Since the psoas connects our lower half to our upper half and helps to affect our digestion, immune system, reproductive organs, and our core, why is it so crazy to think that it’s more than just a tenderloin muscle? There are too many “gut references” embedded into our culture to simply ignore them. This muscle shortens and tightens under chronic emotional stress until it is difficult to get it to let go. If the stress does not stop, why would the psoas? She is your number one employee. Hopelessly dedicated, she will not quit until the boss (emotions) tell her to.
Your core remembers everything you have done to it. Not only have you abused it, you expect it to do its job with all the wrong tools while running on the wrong fuel. If you become impatient with the results from your fitness efforts, remember your own history and be thankful that you’re even walking under your own power.
Steve Wells is a personal trainer and co-owner of Midland Fitness. His column appears on Tuesdays.
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