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

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