In a previous article we explored using a Physical Therapy Roll for working on the upper back. A firm closed cell foam cylinder, the physical therapy roll can be used for a variety of self-care exercises. If you don’t have one you can take a blanket and roll it up into a cylinder at least 6 inches in diameter and as wide as your body. If you choose to use a blanket be sure to roll it up tightly so that it won’t compress much. In this issue we will use the same tool to work on the abdomen and particularly the Psoas muscle.
The Psoas ~ (soas, sometimes grouped with the Illiacus and referred to as the Illiopsoas), is located deep in the abdomen. There are two of them, one on each side of the spine. Underneath the viscera (guts) and against the spine the Psoas runs from the top of the lumbar vertebrae all the way through the pelvis and attaches to the inside of the top of the leg. Along the way it is attached to each of the lumbar vertebrae. Then as the Psoas passes through the pelvis it joins with the Illiacus muscle to form a common tendon which exits the front of the pelvis and attaches to the inside of the leg right near the top of the femur (thigh).
The Psoas is one of the largest and most powerful muscles in the body. Not only does it lift the knee and rotate the leg, the Psoas is one of the prime actors in the complex task of pelvic balance. When constricted the Psoas will cause a swayback and stress the lumbar region, forcing the smaller low back muscles to strain and spasm in the attempt to achieve balance. If the right and left sides are out of balance then the Psoas can create a sideways curve or a rotation in the lumbar region of the spine. Knots, triggerpoints and adhesions in the Psoas can be responsible for a number of other complaints including problems with breathing and digestion. Almost every client that I see with lower back pain has some amount of Psoas involvement, for many it is the main problem even though the pain is in the back or legs. The best way to alleviate problems with the Psoas is to receive some Medical Massage or Sports Massage. As an adjunct to good Massage Therapy you can also do self care for the Psoas such as stretching and other movement work.
One way to work on the Psoas is to lay face down with the Physical Therapy Roll underneath your abdomen. Starting with the roll just below the ribcage allow your body to relax into it. Then roll forward slightly and let it sink in again. Work your way all the way down to the pubic bone. Do this slowly and gently using your breath to help facilitate relaxation. The goal is to relax enough so that the roll can sink all the way to the spine. Work your way back up the pelvis and abdomen then back down again. At first this will be nearly impossible but in time the abdomen and pelvis will become more supple and mobile. Never do this with a full stomach and if you feel undo pain discontinue the exercise, this does after all push on the guts quite a bit.
In time you will find that this exercise becomes easier and you will be able to add more movement. Try lifting one leg and then the other or bending the knees and gently swing the legs from side to side as you work down the torso. You can finish off by doing the ‘cobra’ and the ‘warrior’ yoga poses, both of which stretch the Psoas. This exercise is very difficult but the rewards are great. You will discover new freedom of motion in your waist, pelvis and back. Often digestive problems will decline because of the massaging action on the intestines, which are also lined with muscle and suspended by fascia.
Remember that self-care does not take the place of professional health care. Be sure to consult a Physician or Chiropractor if you are in pain or suspect that you have an injury.