The Relationship Between the Psoas, Stress, and Active Sitting

The Relationship Between the Psoas, Stress, and Active Sitting

The psoas is such a unique and important muscle. Besides its contribution to many movements and postures, it is highly associated with stress, anxiety, and many other emotions. Sometimes people try to treat dysfunction of the psoas muscle with excessive stretching and strengthening, but this may not always be the appropriate treatment.

How can the psoas contribute to stress and emotions?

Understanding the psoas’ relationship to low back pain is easy to understand, and has been discussed more in depth in our previous post, How Active Sitting Can Bring Back Your Psoas Balance.

To really answer the question of how the psoas relates to other aspects of our wellbeing, we will look at:

  • Anatomy
  • Physiology

Anatomy

 The psoas muscle, pronounced “so-az”, is a very large muscle. In fact, it is one of the main muscles that attaches our spine to our lower body. It is known as the keystone of a balanced and well-organized body.¹ There is no denying the magnitude of this muscle as it averages 16 inches long. Attaching from the lower thoracic spine, upper lumbar spine, to the top of the femur, it is considered a hip flexor muscle, but it is so much more than that.¹

It has an energetic relationship with several organs, nerve bundles, blood vessels, and our powerful breathing muscle, the diaphragm.² The upper portion of the psoas and the diaphragm meet at what is known as the solar plexus.³ The solar plexus is one of our 7 chakras, and this one is specifically tied to feelings of personal power and the control of our feelings.

Physiology

Now that we understand more where the psoas is located in the body, let’s take a deeper look at the physiology, or the way the psoas either affects our body or how it is impacted by how we function as a whole.

As the psoas is located between our low back and our hips, it can shorten over time due to our sitting postures. The shortening of our psoas can actually change our posture. Over time, people with shortened psoas muscles may start to lean forwards, losing their full upright posture. This shortening of the front of our body may then cause tightness of or abdominal muscles, decreased diaphragmatic function, and potential impingement on nerves and blood vessels.

This shortened, closed down position can inhibit our solar plexus. Think about it, if you are unable to fully open up, stretching the front of your body, standing tall and proud, not only can this cause actual pain in your body but can actually impact your emotional well-being.

By now, you have been introduced to the relationship between the psoas and the diaphragm. So now, imagine if you are unable to take full deep breaths? Shortness of breath is one of the main signs of anxiety. Not being able to fully open up and expand can create shortness of breath, which can create anxiety, and then the anxiety can cause even more shortness of breath, as well as other symptoms. As you can tell, it can turn into a vicious cycle.

But besides the relationship to the diaphragm, the psoas muscle is intricately connected to the sympathetic nervous system, which is our flight or fight response mechanism.²

“The psoas is the primal messenger of the central nervous system. It is much more than simply a muscle, it can be perceived as the guardian or spokesperson of Dan Tien, Hara, or what is commonly referred to as your ‘gut intuition’. In some spiritual philosophies, the psoas is referred to as ‘the muscle of the soul‘.”

 – Liz Koch, Creator of Coreawareness.com

If the psoas is constantly in a state of tightness and overuse, physical tightness around nerves can occur, causing impediment to their conduction and flow. And, if this happens to our sympathetic nervous system, many symptoms can arise.

The sympathetic nervous system, known as our fight or flight response. If it is constantly stressed by a tightened psoas, our bodies will not be able to decipher when it needs to “rest and digest.” ²

Symptoms of a dysfunctional psoas

It may be difficult to tell if you are experiencing stress, anxiety, or other emotions related to your psoas.¹ ²

One major sign is a general tightness of the front of your hips, difficulty standing up tall and taking long steps, especially if you have to sit a lot for work. If you experience any of these, along with back pain, you may very well also be experiencing more stress and anxiety from your psoas tightness.

If you feel like you are unable to relax, take deep breaths and stay present in the moment, you may be feeling more emotional side effects of dysfunctional psoas muscles.

If you do have to sit a lot at work, the stress from work can make matters even worse.

How to resolve psoas dysfunction?

 All of these symptoms are related to a tight and dysfunctional psoas and can be difficult to address. Some people will stretch and strengthen their psoas for hours without any release in symptoms. This is because they are just continuing to aggravate their nerve bundles. Sometimes, nerves just do not want to be over stretched.

Think about it. When you are stressed and have a million things to do, the last thing you want to do is add something else to your plate and stretch yourself even further. Same for your nervous system. Instead, you may need to work on improving your posture, how you are sitting at work, and using other techniques to release your psoas.

Active sitting to help improve stress, anxiety, and other emotions

If you find yourself with any of these emotions, back pain, or other frustrating ailments, you may be suffering from psoas dysfunction, which in turns causes a myriad of other health problems. As you now know, the psoas has a direct relationship to many other essential body parts and processes, from nerves to our breathing muscle, to blood flow and organ function.²

Sometimes people try to stretch or strengthen their psoas in order to fix their dysfunction. But this does not always work for some people. The reason is, most of the time, people begin to develop these issues from their postures and how they hold themselves.

So why not treat the source of the symptoms?

In our day and age, people have to sit for hours and hours for work. While there are several resources for ergonomics and how to improve them, there just is not too much information about active sitting.

Active sitting is a type of sitting that allows you to move your trunk and core freely while you are still stable on a comfortable and supportive chair. Having a chair that allows movement of your trunk and core means that you get to use your postural, stabilizing muscles throughout the day. Use of these muscles means you will have better posture, will sit more upright, will maintain strength of your core, and have a healthy blood flow in this region from constant muscle work throughout the day. All of this creates a healthier environment for your psoas and the nearby nerves, blood vessels, and organs.

The Symbiotic Chair is one of the best active sitting chairs that you can use to help achieve whole body health. It provides a comfortable, supportive seat on top of a balancing mechanism. This balancing aspect is what allows you to move and use your muscles.

Imagine being able to decrease your stress, anxiety, and other emotions, by simply changing your chair. You will no longer have to stress about your stress! By opening up your hips, using your core muscles and micromovements to improve nerve and blood flow, your breathing, and the recharging the energetic state of your solar plexus, you will be able to experience more joy and less pain while at work, but also throughout the rest of your life.

Author: Adria Biasi

US based Doctor of Physical Therapy and Board Certified Orthopedic Specialist

Sources

 

Can a Posture Correcting Chair Improve Mental Performance?

Can a Posture Correcting Chair Improve Mental Performance?

Chances are, you are probably sitting down while you read this. Perhaps you are on break at work, trying to get through your mid-day crash. Another cup of coffee or a granola bar are just not cutting it these days. Too bad your office chair can’t fold out into a bed so you can take an afternoon nap.

But what if your chair could actually boost your performance, just in a different way? Could you believe that a posture correcting chair can actually improve your mental performance?

What is a posture correcting chair?

Posture correcting chairs are pretty self-explanatory. They are specialized chairs that help to improve one’s posture, especially while sitting at work for hours upon hours each day.

But of course, there are several different types of chairs to choose from:

One of the best posture correcting chairs to improve mental performance is an active sitting, also called dynamic sitting, chair. A great example of this is the Symbiotic Chair.

An active sitting chair allows you to engage your muscles while allowing you to move freely with balance and adequate support. In other types of posture correcting chairs, you do not have the balancing mechanism that allows you to use your own core and postural muscles to move while still maintaining support from the chair.

This continuous movement and muscle contraction and relaxation promotes a healthy environment, not just for your low back health but also for your mental performance. Plus, it increases your overall physical activity throughout the day.

What is mental performance?

Mental performance encompasses so many different things, especially as it relates to psychology and the workplace.

Major components of mental performance includes:

  • Ability to focus
  • Memory
  • Problem solving
  • Functioning of the executive mind
  • Stress resistance
  • Productivity

How many times have you felt like your work performance has decreased due to being uncomfortable at your desk, because of back pain, or just from being stiff and sore from sitting for so long?

This is because your mental performance at work is directly tied to your physical body, your ergonomics, and the chair you are using.¹

Use of posture correcting chair to improve mental performance

Your posture and mental performance create a cycle. This cycle can either be vicious, or healthy and enjoyable. Finding the right chair can help break the bad cycle.

For example, if you are sitting at work in a comfortable, ergonomically friendly chair, you are more likely to have good posture. This good posture promotes improved productivity, decreases the chance of pain or injury developing, and simply makes your work day more enjoyable.² ³ Proper posture, from a well-designed chair, promotes good mental performance at work.

On the other hand, say you have a bad chair, one that is not posture correcting. This improper chair makes you sit slouched and slumped over.² As you adopt this posture, pain can arise and it shortens the muscles in the front of your body, and lengthens and weakens the ones in the back. This decreased mobility and increase in weakness and in pain that comes from poor posture is going to inevitably decrease your mental performance at work. You may become even more distracted by your pain. Then you may become even more tired and slouch even more! And the negative, vicious cycle continues to spiral.

But, if you have a posture correcting chair, you are less likely to go down the path of pain, injury, and poor mental performance.⁴

There is a growing amount of evidence proving how valuable your posture and your chair are when it comes to mental performance at work.

One of the most important studies done so far has looked at the school aged population. This particular study demonstrates the amount of physical activity that comes from using an active sitting chair actually improved the ability of the students to stay on task and improved their academic achievement levels.⁵ If you recall from earlier, active sitting chairs are one of the best types of posture correcting chairs.

They found that this increase in physical activity from the active sitting chair, provided more stimulation and an increase in the sensory experience, allowing the students to stay more engaged in the tasks at hand.⁵

Another recent study looked at an older population. Instead of students, this population consisted of working aged adults. This study assessed different sitting and standing postures and how it affects cognitive performance. This study found that the standard sitting posture was the best posture for helping to increase cognitive performance in the workplace.⁴

Let’s face it. Not all of us can simply stop sitting at work. Some of us cannot use a standing, treadmill, or cycle desk. But maybe some of these standing options are not even the best for productivity and mental performance at work.

So, if you have to sit for work, you may as well sit with a posture correcting chair, especially if it promotes active sitting, as you will feel better both physically and mentally at work.

Author: Adria Biasi

Author is US based Doctor of Physical Therapy and Board Certified Orthopedic Specialist

Sources

  1. https://www.indianweb2.com/2018/02/23/simple-office-chair-can-affect-productivity/#:~:text=Many%20studies%20have%20found%20that,your%20total%20output%20aka%20productivity.
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3552974/
  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5889545/
  4. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/322560848_Investigating_the_Effects_of_Different_Working_Postures_on_Cognitive_Performance
  5. https://www.longdom.org/open-access/do-you-want-your-students-to-pay-moreattention-in-class-try-dynamicseating-2165-7556-1000217.pdf
How Active Sitting Can Bring Back Your Psoas Balance

How Active Sitting Can Bring Back Your Psoas Balance

Sitting all day long can wreak havoc on your body. Unfortunately, most people spend an average of 9.5 hours sitting per day. From chronic pain to metabolic diseases, there is really no good thing that can come from sitting. This includes loss of psoas balance, which can cause a myriad of problems, including chronic low back pain. Fortunately, active sitting can help combat the negative effects that prolonged sitting has on your psoas muscle.

The term “psoas balance” may be new to you. But once you understand the importance of your psoas muscle and its relationship with sitting, your life will be forever changed, in a positive way. In order to achieve psoas balance, you must introduce active sitting into your work day, and really throughout your entire day.

Why is psoas balance important?

The psoas muscle, pronounced “so-as”, is one of the most important and unique muscles of our low back and hips. It is actually the only muscle that has a major connection between our trunk and our legs.¹

This large muscle has direct attachments onto the front of our lumbar spine and directly onto our femur.² As you bend at your hips, whether to pick your leg up or to bend over to tie your shoe, you are using your psoas muscle. Besides helping to bend at our hips, the psoas also helps to stabilize our core, as well as providing assistance to many other bodily functions¹:

  • Postural alignment
  • Major role in walking
  • Supports internal organs such as the kidneys and adrenal glands
  • Assists in proper breathing mechanics, aiding the diaphragm for full deep breaths

Psoas balance refers to having both enough flexibility and enough strength to be able to properly assist in all daily activities. Whether you are sitting, walking, dancing, climbing, or even sleeping, you need your psoas muscles to be long enough and strong enough in order to avoid low back pain.

If your psoas is out of balance, the tight muscles can compress your low back, putting pressure on your vertebrae and spinal discs. Over time this can cause pain, injury, and may even cause someone to have surgery that very well could have been avoided.³

Your psoas can also be out of balance if your muscles are weak. If these muscles are weak, your body will begin to try to use other muscles for assistance with core stabilizing, postural alignment, and for walking or other hip flexion or trunk bending activities. As other muscles take on the work, low back pain and even other areas of pain can arise.

One of the most common reasons why imbalance in the psoas muscle occurs is from sitting. Quite frankly, humans sit way too much. While overall sitting time can decrease, not all sitting can be avoided. So, if you have to sit, you will have better success with maintaining psoas balance, and eliminating low back pain by engaging in active sitting.

Psoas balance and active sitting

When we sit in a standard chair, we put our psoas muscle in a shortened position.

Most of us sit with our hips at a 90 degree bend. This position brings the 2 attachment sites of the psoas closer together, the front of your spine and your femur. Combine this bent position with sitting for hours and hours, you will without a doubt have adaptive shortening over time. This adaptive shortening will cause decreased flexibility, inability to properly fire your psoas, and will result in low back pain.

Sure, you may be able to try to avoid this shortening and imbalance of your psoas by trying to avoid sitting for extended periods of time or by sitting with your hips higher than your knees.⁴

But even if you take multiple breaks through your work day and avoid sitting when you are at home, you will still most likely sit close to 30-40 hours per week if you have an office job.

And even raising the height of the chair, bringing your hips higher above your knees, is still shortening and tightening everything in the front of your body, including your psoas!

Your best bet in avoiding problems with your psoas balance is to implement active sitting. Active sitting refers to a type of sitting that allows you to use some or all of your postural and core stabilizing muscles.

A common way that people may begin to practice active sitting is through use of an exercise ball. However, there are other ways to more professionally and safely practice active sitting in the workplace. One way is through the use of the Symbiotic Chair.

Active sitting, whether through the use of the Symbiotic Chair, or other means, helps to prevent psoas imbalances. As mentioned previously, the psoas is a postural muscle, stimulates blood flow and lymphatic drainage to surrounding organs and tissues, and even has a role in improving the function of the diaphragm.¹ ⁴

So, if active sitting allows the users to use their own muscles, for support, balance, postural alignment, and overall control of both where the body and the chair are moving, that means the psoas is free to move, engage, and relax throughout the day.

A happy, moving, fluid psoas equals a happy, pain free low back, improved posture, better breathing, and overall better experience throughout the work day.

Active versus static sitting

Why is active sitting so much better for psoas balance than static sitting? Well, static sitting refers to sitting all day in a rigid chair. Even if your chair is set up correctly for your shape and size, including the use of lumbar support, you are still stuck in one, inflexible position for most of the day.

Think of static sitting as sitting on a piece of concrete and active sitting as sitting in a kayak, floating on the lake. Both involve sitting, but both are two totally different experiences.

Concrete, or a standard office chair, is very stable yet non-conforming to your movements. Your spine and muscles stay rigid. As you move forwards, your whole body moves as a unit. But in the kayak, or in an active sitting chair, you are supported but with freedom to move around. Different body parts can move with fluidity and more mobility, allowing your muscles, especially your psoas to be used in a more natural way.

The mico-movements that are promoted all day while in an active sitting chair allows for improved circulation and breathing. So, by using an active sitting chair, you are not only improving your psoas balance and low back pain, but you are improving the health of your whole body.

The psoas is a remarkable muscle and in future posts we will dive into the connection between psoas balance and our emotions and stress and how active sitting can improve all areas of our life.

But for now, try to incorporate active sitting in your work day.

Author: Adria Biasi

Author is US based Doctor of Physical Therapy and Board Certified Orthopedic Specialist

Sources

 

How the Symbiotic Chair helps you to withstand a day of Zoom meetings without breaking your back

How the Symbiotic Chair helps you to withstand a day of Zoom meetings without breaking your back

We recently spoke to Melanie Nicholls about her experiences with the shift to remote working and how this led her to improve her home workstation and start using an active sitting office chair. 

Please tell us about yourself, who do you work for, what is your job role, and what does a ‘day in the life’ look like?

I’m a director at a Market Research company, where i head up one of the specialist departments. My work involves being out and about a lot of the time (running focus groups and interviews etc.), but I still spend a fair amount of time in the office in meetings and running the team. A day in the life can be very varied. If I’m in the office, I’ll be be working on projects, writing proposals and in meetings (both internal meetings and client meetings). If I’m on fieldwork, I can be travelling around the country interviewing people, running evening focus groups or conducting telephone interviews. It’s very varied, and that’s what I love about it.

What were the challenges you encountered when like so many of us you suddenly found yourself working from home?

My company adopted ‘agile working’ around 18 months ago, and we’ve been encouraged to work from home one day a week where possible. This means that my tech set up is good, and I can access all the drives I need to when working from home, and am able to communicate with my team. The main challenge for me was my work set-up: I didn’t have a desk, so I had been making do with working on my laptop on the sofa. I realized very quickly that this would not be sustainable in the long term.
One of the key challenges of WFH was the number of Zoom calls that I needed to take. As my team was dispersed, it was important to set up a daily call to check-in, but all my other regular meetings – and any project meetings or informal catch-ups and interviews – were all transferred to Zoom. On some days, I had almost back-to-back calls, which meant I was sitting for hours a day.

What was the set up of your workstation at home? How adequate was it was in terms of ergonomics?

I bought a small desk, so I was in a better situation than when I was working on my sofa. I started off with my laptop and a mouse. I struggled as the screen was so low and the keyboard was too small.

We advised you to quickly improve your set up by putting your laptop on an improvised elevation (books or a box) to ensure the top of the monitor is level with your eyes when sitting upright, and to attach an external keyboard to your laptop to make this possible. How did you do this? What did you use and how long did it take you?

I gradually improved my set up from laptop on the sofa, to a laptop on a desk, to a laptop on a pile of books on the desk, and a separate keyboard. Although the screen was higher, I really struggled with my posture, and I had lower back pain from sitting on my (unsupportive) kitchen chair.

Finally, you decided that you needed a proper ergonomic chair when WFH so you familiarized yourself with active sitting and started using Symbiotic. How did you find the experience? How would you describe the impact it’s had on you?

I have a much better set up now! Symbiotic Chair has made a huge difference to my back, posture and overall levels of comfort. It took a little while to get used to (it was surprisingly wobbly at the start), but I felt the positive effects almost immediately. My posture is much better than when I was on the sofa (which is not surprising!), but it’s also better than when I’m in the office. With the ‘agile working’ set-up I had a different desk, chair and screen every day, which meant I could be too high or too low, leaving me slouching or hunched over my desk. Symbiotic is comfortable, moves with me, and keeps me in an active sitting pose, so I always feel supported. The seat is incredibly comfortable. I spend a huge amount of times in Zoom meetings and working at my desk – without the breaks that naturally occur at work (walking to the upstairs kitchen to make coffee) – and I’ve sat comfortable for up to 10 hours a day. That would not have been viable with my previous set up. Ultimately, it’s been a fantastic experience and I’ll struggle with the chairs at work when I go back.