Fitness Tips

Feeling Lower Back Pain? Move This Lesser-Known Muscle for Relief

Rebecca Norris

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Have you ever been mid-movement—whether walking from point A to point B or trying your hardest to stay balanced in a Lagree elevator lunge—only to be stopped in your tracks by an unrelenting pinching sensation in your lower back? Well, folks, I have and let’s be clear, it’s painful AF. What’s not as obvious, however, is the fact that it might not be your back that’s the problem, but that your psoas muscle (pronounced so-as) is out of whack.

According to Mindbody wellness specialist Kate Ligler, your psoas originates at the mid-to-lower back and extends downwards towards the iliacus, which originates at the hip. The muscles connect at the femur, effectively connecting your torso to your legs; together, they make up the iliopsoas, which plays a key role in every activity that involves forward hip flexion. Think: walking, cycling, rowing, climbing, lunging, sitting, and on and on and on.

“These muscles work in tandem as the primary hip flexors and create harmony between our pelvis and spine in nearly all day-to-day movements,” Ligler explains. “Because we spend so much time with closed hips, or forwardly flexed, the muscles that specifically create this action—known as the iliopsoas—often become tightened, shortened, and eventually weak without regular attention.”

Speaking of weak psoas muscles, Poulin Health & Wellness CEO and founder Nick Poulin says that a lack of focus on your psoas can cause many of the surrounding muscles to overcompensate. “That is why a tight or overstretched psoas muscle could be the cause of many of your aches and pains, including low back and pelvic pain,” he says.

So, if you’ve been wondering what on earth you’ve done to your back to make it feel so wonky, it might be time to instead focus your attention on your hip flexors to help loosen up that tension. To help, ahead you’ll discover six stretches that work wonders for your psoas muscle. Happy stretching!

6 stretches that work wonders for your psoas muscle

1. Modified Crescent Lunge

CorePower Yoga Master Trainer Amy Opielowski swears by this movement when it comes to strengthening and stretching the psoas muscle. From a tabletop position, she says to step your right foot forward until your ankle is under your front knee. Lift your torso up and keep your back knee down. From there, reach your arms up and gently draw your lower abdominals in towards your spine, with your hips pointing forward. For visualization’s sake, think of this as your classic post-workout lunge stretch. Hold the position for 15-20 seconds before switching.

One way to modify this movement is to bring your knee all the way down to the floor. From there, based on whichever foot is forward, arc the opposite arm over your head to stretch out the side body.

Expert tip: Opielowski points out that the psoas is fascially connected to the respiratory diaphragm. “Practice long inhalations and exhalations (at least 10) in each exercise to nourish the cohesive relationship between your psoas and respiratory diaphragm,” she suggests.

2. Progressive Door Step-Throughs

Say hello to one of my (and Ligler’s) all-time favorite psoas stretches. To perform the movement, stand in the middle of an open doorway and stretch your left arm over your head, resting your hand or elbow on the correlating door frame. Step your left foot forward through the door to feel an incredible stretch all the way down your left side body.

3. Side-Lying Iliopsoas Stretch

If you’re willing to lie down in the name of your psoas, this is the stretch for you. “Lie on your right side, with your knees comfortably bent at hip height, keeping your spine neutral, with the back of your head in line with the back of your pelvis,” Poulin instructs, noting to use your right arm to support your head. “Keeping your left leg bent, move it behind you, going only as far as you can go without increasing the arch in your lower back.” From there, grab your left ankle with your left hand. If you can’t reach it, use a yoga strap to encircle it so that you’re still able to achieve the stretch.

4. Single-Leg Pendulum Swings

Sometimes stretching out your psoas is as simple as getting into the swing of things. Opielowski says to place a yoga block about a foot away from a wall. “Place your left foot on the block and support your balance with your left hand on the wall,” she instructs. “Hover your right leg and gently swing your leg back and forth. Keep your hip points level.” Switch legs after about 45 seconds, repeating the process until you feel adequately stretched.

5. Hip Bridge from the Floor

Ligler recommends this stretch for people looking for something a bit more intermediate. “Start on your back with your knees bent to 90 degrees with your feet on the floor,” she says. “Squeeze your glutes to tuck your tailbone, ensuring your spine is in full contact with the floor.” While your core is engaged, further squeeze your glutes to lift your hips into healthy alignment with your knees and shoulders. Hold here for five to 10 seconds, lower your hips, and repeat the process eight to 10 times.

6. Supine Figure 4 Variation

This is another stretch you can do laying down. “Lie on your back and bend your knees to a 90-degree angle,” Opielowski begins. “Cross your right ankle over your left knee and walk your left foot out to the left. Slowly lower your knees to the right and hold for seven to 10 breaths before switching.”

Another option is to modify the stretch by keeping your legs outstretched. Poulin says to pull in one knee at a time, holding it close to your chest while keeping the other leg straight with toes pointed up. (For even more of a stretch in this form, you can place a smooth foam roller or block just under your lower back (think: top of your butt crack), which will further stretch the front of the muscle, thus releasing the psoas.)

Ready for a more comfortable body? Sure you are. These middle-back stretches help your spine feel better, and if “tech neck” has you tense, try these easy neck stretches.

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