As a Pilates instructor you recognize how important the psoas is in proper control of the pelvis and hip. Proper length and strength in the psoas ensures that the individual is able to control their pelvis and hips required to properly perform the requisite Pilates exercises as well as the necessary movements in life. However were you also aware that the psoas is instrumental in helping to maintain alignment of the lumbar spine and pelvis so that posture and movement occurs safely without overloading the sensitive structures of the back? And were you aware that the psoas is actually a very inefficient hip flexor? This article will look briefly at the functional role of the psoas and highlight its contribution to alignment and control of the spine, pelvis, and hips. Following this article you will have strategy for improving function of the psoas as well as improving your client’s posture and movement.
Functional Anatomy of the Psoas
The psoas originates from the anterior surfaces of the lower thoracic spine, all five lumbar vertebrae and inserts into the lesser trochanter. However, this muscle also fascially blends into the diaphragm and transversus abdominus as well as the pelvic floor. It will also send fibers into the anterior surface of the pelvis.
While its function is often listed as a hip flexor, the psoas is actually a very weak and inefficient hip flexor. So if it is not a hip flexor what does it do? The psoas has three key functions at the hip, pelvis, and spine. These are highlighted below.
The psoas will pull the femoral head into the acetabulum. This helps maintain the optimal axis of rotation so the other hip flexors – iliacus, rectus femoris, sartorius, and tensor fascia latae – can flex the hip.
• The psoas compresses the lumbar spine to ensure optimal spinal stabilization. This helps protect the low back during motion of the lower extremities and the trunk/spine.
• The psoas helps to anchor the thoracolumbar junction – the region where the thoracic spine joins the lumbar spine – so that breathing is efficient and controlled. Three-dimensional breathing helps stabilize the thoracopelvic cylinder and thus helps improve control of the trunk, spine, and pelvis.
There are three important things you can do to improve function of your client’s psoas as part of the deep myofascial system that includes the transversus abdominus, diaphragm, pelvic floor, and multifidi. This is the exact strategy I use in my office with my patients who are experiencing chronic low back, hip, and/or pelvic issues.
1. Stop gripping
Too often individual’s are gripping – over-contracting their superficial glutes hip rotators – and pulling their pelvis into posterior pelvic rotation. This inhibits the glutes from firing effectively and flattens the lumbar lordosis. Both of these issues contribute to inhibition of the psoas and consequently dysfunction of the spine and pelvis. Teach individuals to relax gripping around their hips and help restore more optimal alignment of their hips, pelvis, and spine.
2. Teach three-dimensional breathing
As mentioned above, the psoas attaches into the diaphragm and transversus abdominus. Three-dimensional breathing – using the entire thorax and pelvis rather than just belly breathing – improves activation of the diaphragm, psoas, transversus abdominus, and pelvic floor. This helps to stabilize the trunk, spine, pelvis, and hips and reduces the need for over-gripping or bracing for posture and movement. Teach clients how to activate their deep myofascial system and coordinate this with breathing as they are performing their functional Pilates exercises.
3. Train control of neutral trunk, spine, and pelvic alignment
As a Pilates instructor, you likely do a wonderful job teaching individuals to move into spinal flexion/extension and posterior/anterior tilt of their pelvis. We also need to do an equally great job at teaching individuals how to control neutral alignment of these regions. Individuals should be able to maintain neutral alignment – lumbar lordosis, anterior pelvic tilt, and centrated hips – as the extremities are moved. This ensures that the individual has optimal proximal control of these regions and can stabilize prior to movement.
In this article, I have outlined the functional roles of the psoas: stabilization of the trunk, spine, and pelvis and centration of the hips. Additionally, I discussed a three-part strategy for improving function of the psoas as part of the deep myofascial system: stop gripping of the superficial hip muscles, teach three-dimensional breathing, and help the individual control neutral alignment prior to moving out of neutral. By utilizing this simple yet effective strategy, you will help restore optimal stabilization function of the psoas. By utilizing this strategy, you will help so many individuals that have been experiencing chronic back and hip tightness. By utilizing this strategy, you will attract many additional clients that want and need your services to achieve their health and fitness goals.
Osar, E. and Bussard, M. 2016. Functional Anatomy of the Pilates Core. Lotus Publishing. Chinchester, UK.
Osar, E. 2012. Corrective Exercise Solutions to Common Hip and Shoulder Dysfunction. Lotus Publishing. Chinchester, UK.
About the Author
Dr. Evan Osar is an internationally recognized lecturer, author, and expert on assessment, corrective exercise, and integrative movement for the baby boomer and senior populations. Dr. Osar and his wife Jenice Mattek created the Institute for Integrative Health and Fitness Education™, which provides advanced-level live education and free on-line resources incorporating assessment, corrective exercise, and functional exercise. Dr. Osar has authored one of the most highly acclaimed industry resources on corrective exercise – Corrective Exercise Solutions – and recently co-authored Functional Anatomy of the Pilates Core. He has developed the industry’s most advanced training certifications – Integrative Corrective Exercise Instructor™ and Integrative Movement Specialist™. For more information including free educational resources visit www.IIHFE.com