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