The Psoas muscle connects across the hip and pelvis up to the lumbar spine.
Why does a tight psoas muscle cause so much trouble?
As a tight psoas muscle shortens, it adds a sustained pull on the lower back and restricts hip extension (movement of the leg behind you).
Unfortunately the lower back tends to lose out here – the leverage of the leg just adds more pressure to the lower back and your tight psoas can quickly lead to lower back pain.
Why does a psoas muscle shorten?
A tight psoas muscle can shorten for a number of reasons. It will slowly shorten due to spending most of its time in a short position like sitting, or it can rapidly (but temporarily) shorten after strenuous exercise like fast running.
Given that our lifestyles now involve so much desk time, the first issue seems to be the culprit for most people.
In sitting, the psoas is in an extremely short position. It still gets used every time you sit forward to reach for your mouse (or coffee).
As the body is wonderfully adaptive, it alters its length to be best suited to the main role its performing.
So gradually over a number of months, the psoas will lose its length and flexibility.
How can you fix a tight psoas muscle?
The key to stretching a tight psoas muscle lies in the same adaptive process.
Just stretching for a few minutes each day isn’t enough stimulation to cause the body to adapt – it can’t offset 8+ hours of sitting.
Combining psoas stretches with muscle activation is more successful – using the muscle against resistance in a lengthened position will generate a faster and larger adaptation in length.
Adding a repetitive exercise involving lengthened positions, such as yoga or fast walking, and you have yourself the perfect remedy to a tight psoas.
What’s the best stretch for psoas?
The most effective, and simplest, stretch for a tight psoas muscle is a walking lunge. No weights or equipment required, it can be done safely by almost anyone.
Place your hands on your hips to improve balance and body awareness.
Take a long stride forward and lower your back knee towards the ground.
It’s important that you don’t lean back as you lunge.
As the psoas connects to the lower back, a forward lean as you stretch is your body’s way of letting you know that your muscle ran out of length.
Forcing your back upright will only add more pressure to it and cause back pain.
Another simple stretch is a reverse lunge.
From a standing position, take a long step backwards as you lower your hips towards the ground.
Aim to get your back leg as far back as comfortable without making your trunk tilt forwards.
Ideally the knee of your back leg should be behind your hips to maximise the stretch.
How long should you stretch for?
You’ll typically need around 2-5 minutes of stretching each day to notice an improvement in flexibility.
If you’re a stiffer body type, it may take longer to loosen up so give yourself at least 5 minutes and ease into it.
We generally advise that you continue your routine as long as you’re feeling that there’s an improvement with each repetition.
For each stretch, alternate legs on each repetition to get the best effect – otherwise your first leg will stiffen up again while you’re stretching the second leg.
What else can help a tight psoas?
Combine a daily stretching routine with a regular walk or run, ideally immediately after your stretches, and you’ll feel an improvement in muscle length with a week or two.
Just remember though, the muscle adaptation that caused the tight psoas muscle was a gradual process.
The return to normal length is just as gradual (even a bit slower according to the research).
Be patient and consistent for the best results.