I made the yearly trek to my doctor’s office last week for a wellness checkup. Fortunately, everything’s looking pretty good, but we talked about one thing that continues to plague me. Tightness in the hips and hamstrings. A year and a half ago, I made some progress on this problem with a myofascial piriformis relief stretch, which I’ve been doing with some regularity since discovering this stretch, but the tightness in my hips and lower back has persisted. After some discussion about the exact source of the pain, he suggested I should use a psoas stretch to tackle the problem.
Tight Psoas Stretch
The psoas is a deep hip muscle that originates at the lumbar vertebrae, runs down across the front of the hip, and connects at the inside edge of the femur. A large muscle, the psoas is responsible for flexing the trunk side-to-side and flexing the hip.
When I first started training for a triathlon, I jumped rapidly into cycling. Shortly thereafter, I started to experiencing sporadic bouts with tightness in my lower back and hips. Unfortunately, I’ve never been able to prove to myself that my cycling regimen contributed to the problem. However, it would seem reasonable to believe that if cycling were the culprit, laying off the activity would alleviate the problem. Unfortunately, that turns out to not be the case.
The psoas, along with the iliacus, combine to make up the hip flexor, which plays a significant role in raising and flexing the knee. It’s also engaged when sitting, (including driving), cycling, and when riding a bicycle, especially in the aero position. All of these movements work to shorten the psoas, so if you’re a runner, cyclist, or triathlete, you’re at risk of developing a tight psoas. Work activities that can contribute to this problem include sitting at a desk all day, and sitting with the legs crossed. All of these movements place the psoas in a shortened position, which increases the risk of developing hip or low back pain.
Unfortunately, stretches for the psoas are difficult to come by. Because its a deep muscle, stretching it presents many of the same challenges as one finds when trying to stretch the piriformis. However, there are a handful of stretches that have been proven to be effective. After reviewing a number of available options, and trying out several, this modified version of a runner’s lunge has proven to be very effective for me.
Pay careful attention to the location of the stretch. You should feel it strongly on the back leg, near the location of your front pocket. Believe me — You’ll know when you’ve got the right spot.
And if you have a partner, you can try the tandem stretch shown below. If you have a tight psoas, it’ll feel like someone is subjecting you to a form of torture. But when you’re done, you’ll find there’s some relief.
My plan is to try psoas stretches for the next 3-4 weeks, at least twice daily. Then I’ll report back on whether they’ve gained me any relief. Wish me luck!