We've spent the last few Muscle Mondays focusing on the upper body, particularly about posture and how it affects our muscles and joints. Let's take a moment and look at one of the integral team members of our "core" and a common culprit for low back-related issues. Allow me to introduce to you, the Psoas Major (silent "P").
While there are many unique features about this muscle, perhaps the most significant is the number of joints that it crosses. This muscle originates at the transverse processes of T12-L4, crossing 5 spinal segments before going distally and inserting into the lesser trochanter of the femur. Because it crosses so many joints, it is responsible for 3 main movements including: Lumbar flexion, ipsilateral side-bend and hip flexion. Because of its attachment on the inside of the thigh, it also will slightly externally rotate the femur as well.
The primary job of the Psoas is to flex the hip. It joins together with the iliacus muscle to form the iliopsoas tendon.
One of the main issues that people commonly face, particularly those who have a more sedentary lifestyle or job that requires several hours of sitting, is that the muscle will gradually adapt and shorten over time. Why this is an issue, is that this can result on increased stress on the lower back when you try and stand up tall/straight due to the tightness of the muscle which naturally would pull you into more trunk and hip flexion. In order to compensate, you would extend (or arch) your back more to allow you to get into the full upright position.
Other common issues related to the psoas major are hip flexor tendinitis and/or "snapping hip syndrome" (the two are NOT synonymous). Hip flexor tendinitis describes an acute inflammation of the iliopsoas tendon and commonly painful with active contraction of the hip flexors. On the other hand, snapping hip syndrome is a condition in which a person may experience or hear a popping/snapping sensation in the front of their hip when they flex their hip, but may or may not be painful when the sensation occurs. Snapping hip syndrome typically indicates that there is friction on the tendon (which causes the "snap"). It could potentially lead to tendinitis and scar tissue formation of the iliopsoas tendon. Both of these conditions are commonly found in dancers, bikers, soccer players and runners.
One quick and simple way to check to see if you have tight hip flexors is to perform a Thomas Test. While this is most commonly performed by a healthcare professional in the clinic, it is simple to do and can offer helpful insight to help you fine tune your body. To perform, you lay down on a bed while hugging one knee towards your chest. The other leg (the one you are testing) would drop down towards to floor. If you feel your back start to arch up, or if your femur (thigh) does not reach parallel to the floor, it would suggest that you have tightness/stiffness of your hip flexors. Do not, however, perform this if you are unsteady (in other words, don't fall off the bed), or if you already have pain in the area. Please make sure to seek advice from a medical professional for more detailed assessment.
One very simple and easy place to start would be to start a simple stretching and strengthening regimen. Follow along in the video below to learn one of my all-time favorite stretches that I personally do on a daily basis.
Of course, this is all about balance. Not only is stretching largely advisable to help maintain good habits, but it is also important to strengthen the appropriate muscles as well. In this particular case, it is important to focus on the glutes (Max, Med). Make sure that if you sit for work or school, that you get up and stretch a couple of minutes or walk around every hour. As always, check in with your friendly neighborhood physical therapist for specific guidance and tips to help you keep your body in prime working condition.
Until next time, Opus Fam!
If you've been finding yourself sitting on the couch or at the computer for hours on end, this post is for you. So remember last post when I spoke about muscles seldom work in insolation? The same goes true for this week's featured muscle, but we'll just bring it back in and focus on our friend:
The Transverse Abdominis
I grew up playing tennis and practicing Tae Kwon Do. Later on in college, I rowed (much to my piano teacher's dismay --- my hands were ALWAYS blistered and torn up). What is the one thing during the workouts that ALL of my coaches (but none of my music professors) talked about?
"You must strengthen the core"
The Transverse Abdominis (TrA) is one component of the system of muscles that make up your core (stay tuned for further discussions regarding the core)
The muscle is extremely broad - stretching across your torso. It attaches on the lower 6 ribs from the top, into the pubic bone on your pelvis. Medially, it attaches right down the middle of your abdomen via a facial junction and wraps around the sides and attaches into the fascia connecting to your abdominal obliques (internus).
Image Credit: Kenhub.com
If you take a look at any of the other muscle pictures that I have posted, or even ones you can find online, understand that muscles will pull parallel to the orientations of its fibers. So in this particular case, they draw your stomach inwards like this:
It's not so much of a "sucking in your belly" type of motion, which is a common misconception. This is a 3D motion that occurs around your torso. Simplest way - if you've ever worn or seen a corset like they used to wear way back when, it's that kind of cinching together motion that this muscle performs.
Now, why is this significant?
As the TrA contracts, it works in conjunction with other muscles in the back, pelvic floor in order to increase the pressure inside the abdominal cavity. That pressure will then push up against the lumbar spine to add even more stability.
Whether you're walking, standing up from a chair, or raising your arm to retrieve an object, this core stability is essential in all aspects of human movement. In fact, it is so essential, that even as you reach out your arm to pick something up, your body anticipates the task and activates this system before it even happens. This means that your body should automatically engage all of the muscles before you even consciously realize that you're going to do it.
But wait.... There's more.....
Many studies including this one and this O.G. study found that in subjects with low back pain, there was a delay in core muscle recruitment. We're not talking seconds or minutes, but even a millisecond delay can result in decreased core stability with performing a task (like a conductor starting his downbeat when no one is prepared) which ultimately can exacerbate the problem further, due to the lack of initial stabilization.
This is a type of muscle that needs endurance training more-so than brute strength. So as you're going about your daily routine or workouts, see if you can feel your core kick on. Planks are a great place to start, but so are most fully body exercises because remember - you are never working out alone.
Until next time, stay happy and healthy!
Dr. Janice Ying is a Los Angeles-based Physical Therapist. She is board-certified Orthopedic Physical Therapy Specialist and is regarded as a leading expert in the field of Performing Arts Medicine and the development of cutting edge injury prevention and rehabilitation programs for musicians.
The information on this website is intended for educational purposes and should NOT be construed as medical advice. If you have or think you have a health-related issue which needs to be addressed, please seek the help from your local licensed medical professional.