Your Psoas is Tight!

Sep 04, 2023

Until recently, I had NO idea what it was. (nor why I should care)

However, I stumbled upon something that has significantly changed my life! So now I'm going to share it with you in hopes that it can also help you as much as it has helped me. 

But first- 

What's a Psoas muscle?

"The psoas muscle is among the most significant muscles that overlie the vertebral column. It is a long fusiform muscle on either side of the vertebral column and the brim of the lesser pelvis. At its distal end, it combines with the iliacus muscle to form the iliopsoas muscle." NCBI 

In short, your psoas muscle is the strongest hip flexor and is responsible for pulling your front body (torso and thighs) closer together. That being said, it's exact function is still a matter of debate. So your psoas is actually more than just a hip flexor. One of the more widely known functions of the psoas points to its spin and pelvis stiffening or stabilizing effect

Click on the image below for a more in depth description. 

Why does your psoas get tight?

If you spend a lot of time sitting (think multiple hours every day in a position where your psoas is in a shortened state) you likely have a tight psoas. (especially if you slouch a lot or have the swayback posture where your hips are always shoved forward) 

If you do a lot of physical training (big into HIIT, CrossFit, weight lifting, etc.) and are generally tight in several areas (in particular the hips) then your psoas might be one of those muscle groups that are used to being engaged, but not elongated. 

What happens when your Psoas is tight?

You get back pain!

I sit at my desk for 6-8 hours a day, but usually take a "break" to do some kind of high intensity workout most days as well. This is a perfect storm for having an extremely tight psoas (Saturday's are usually better because I'm up and moving around most of the day and not sitting so much).

I've had lower back tightness/pain my entire adult life. It's not so bad that it stops me from doing much, but it's something that has been present for as long as I can remember. In fact, it's so normal I often don't think about it much until it gets particularly tight and uncomfortable. 

Actually, that's probably not true. It's become so "normal" that I don't think about how I'm thinking about my stiffness and backpain. I know that sounds like a subtle distinction, but I don't think it is. We all have patterns of thought (soundtracks as Jon Acuff calls them) that are so ingrained in our way of thinking that we don't recognize that it's a distinctive pathway we're following. It's not that I don't think about how my back is stiff, it's just so common that when I need to adjust every few minutes when I'm sitting, I don't consciously observe that I had the thought to relieve my pain... (Hold that thought, we'll come back to it)

The Pso-Rite

I stumbled upon the PSO-RITE almost by accident. I didn't want to spend almost $80 bucks on something I didn't know would work or not, but some of the testimonials hype it up as being a minor miracle worker, so I almost bought it right then and there. But after a little digging around I also found a $15-ish option if you don't mind waiting 3 weeks, OR you can just 3D print your own for about $5-6 worth of filament! Here's the one I printed, and a second version as well (I also coated the top of mine with a rubber sealant I had laying around).

My first time I spent about 15 minutes watching videos and trying it out in different positions. It can be pretty intense. In order to reach your psoas it has to "dig in" pretty deep and you have to will yourself to relax into it. One of those "good pain" kind of things that takes a little getting used too, but after a few minutes I could kind of intuit where it should go and make adjustments to target different areas.

It both hurt and felt good at the same time, but I couldn't tell if it was really making that big of a difference.

HOWEVER, after finishing I went into my bedroom to talk with my wife and was laying in bed when I had this dawning realization that my back wasn't hurting! (for me it's usually a low grade annoyance, but is almost always there) 

I'm one of those guys who can't just lay flat on the ground because it's too uncomfortable. My back is just too tight and I just can't stay in that position for very long. Regular exercise and yoga/stretching have helped but it's still something I struggle with almost constantly. Over the years I've tried putting pillows in between my legs when I sleep and various different things that have sometimes worked and sometimes didn't. But I can't just fall asleep on my back or I'll wake up a couple hours later with lower back pain. 

So when I was able to lie on my back in bed and it not be tight/hurt at all, it really did feel like magic. Like a minor miracle had happened to be able to lie there and not be in pain.

I wondered if it was too good to be true, but I actually made a point to fall asleep on my back that night and woke up in the morning still on my back, and still without pain. I think almost more significantly is that I hadn't woken up 4,5, or a dozen times in the night to readjust my position to try and get more comfortable (aka, relieve the tension in my back). I actually got less sleep than I normally do that night, but still felt great. One night does not a pattern make, but it's been a week now and the only time I've had trouble at night with back pain is the one day I had a particularly hard/long Ultimate Frisbee game and did not use it that evening. 

I'm sure this is not the solution for everyone with lower back pain (and I am still working at improving my mobility and flexibility) but I knew I had to write/share this with everyone if there was even an off chance that it could help someone as much as it helped me.  Which brings me back to the thought about patterns of thinking. 

What small change could have a huge impact on your life?

I believe that there are things both physically and mentally that everyone could do that would have just as dramatic a change on our lives.

I have a friend who started taking vitamin D, in the winter since he doesn't get any sun, and swears that it dramatically helps his mood/stave of feelings of depression. I have another one who decided to cut out all sugar from his diet and has lost 80 lbs. from it. More than that he says that it's dramatically affected his mental state. That when he became "hangry" he "turned into a jerk" and that he felt a literal spiritual prompting to get this under control (not only for his health, but because of how dramatically it affected his mood, attitude, and how he treated his wife and children).

Even more impactful are the mental changes that can dramatically shape our circumstances. I've been on a quest to learn how to improve my relationships. (Hint- turns out it starts by changing myself) And I've found that by changing my patterns of responding (instead of reacting... "poorly" as I've done too many times before) it has completely changed (for the positive) several aspects of my relationships with my family. As I've learned to be differentiated and both own what I want and act in a way I can look in the mirror and be proud of, it's made me a much better/safer person to be around. I'm pretty sure no one in my life would say I was ever a tyrant or anything like that, but as I've learned to make small, but significant changes in the way I view the world/situations, I'm able to respond differently. Better. And it's impact is just as large at reliving pain in our family and home...   

Here are a few more examples of small changes that can make a significant impact on our physical and mental well-being:

6 more examples of small changes that Will make a big impact

  1. Mindfulness:

    Taking a few minutes each day to engage in mindfulness exercises, deep breathing, meditation, or being fully present in the moment, can reduce stress, improve focus, and have powerful grounding effect and reset your mind and energy.

  2. Prioritizing Sleep/Limit Screen Time:

    Establish a consistent sleep schedule and creating a sleep-friendly environment can lead to better sleep quality, increased energy levels, improved mood, and enhanced cognitive function. And the best way to do that is to set boundaries and reduce excessive screen time, especially before bedtime. This will improve sleep quality, and promote a healthier balance between online and offline activities. Let's be honest, we all love that little dopamine hit, but I promise there are better ways to recover/relax that will help you fit those oranges into your day. 

  3. Physical Activity:

    Engaging in regular physical activity is the quickest way to reset your mind. Period. We all know it. Science has proven it. If this isn't a priority in your life, do whatever it takes to make it one. (Hint- the quickest way to do this is to surround yourself with a tribe that takes motivation out of the equation) Even in small increments, such as taking short walks, stretching breaks, or choosing the stairs over the elevator, can boost mood, increase energy and improve your health.

  4. Gratitude:

    The impact of gratitude on our happiness and success cannot be overstated. Setting aside a couple minutes each day to reflect on and express gratitude for the positive aspects of life can cultivate a sense of contentment, increase optimism, and make a huge impact in taking back your brain health.

  5.  Measure the Progress:

    “The way to measure your progress is backward against where you started, not against your ideal.”—Dan Sullivan  “Success is not perfection. Success is progress. Just be better today than you were yesterday. And if for some reason you aren’t, be better tomorrow than you are today.” ~Darren Hardy   

    Don't get caught always living in the gap. Living in the gain is where we find motivation and the energy to keep going.

  6. Close the mental loop.

    In episode #116 we dive into some of the most common loops that keep us mentally stuck. From not processing past trauma, to bad habits/coping mechanisms to the clutter that fills our computers and desks and lives with dozens of unfinished projects that constantly hang over our heads. If we can learn to "close the loop" and free up more mental and emotional energy, I believe the affect could free us from just as much pain as this weird looking psoas tool as done for my back. (You don't realize how much time and mental effort it actually takes until it's gone) More importantly than the reasons WHY we get stuck in loops are 15 simple ways to close those loop sand free up your mind and motivation. (Here's the Reference and Quick Guide link)

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