Iliopsoas is a term used for the combo platter of muscles that is Iliacus and Psoas Major. These muscles call the posterior abdominal wall home, where they attach the lumbar spine and pelvis to the hip. This trajectory makes iliopsoas not only an important postural muscle (you need it for standing and walking) but also a strong flexor of the hip joint. Sprinting and running with high knees (i.e. hips and knees are flexed above a 90 degree angle) really recruits this muscle complex along with the usual suspects of Quads, TFL and Sartorius. Also, a wonderful calisthenic exercise known as the Mountain Climber is good for strengthening this muscle for the same reason that it flexes the hip beyond 90 degrees. We need our iliopsoas to be strong in order to keep that back straight and supported through all our daily activities outside of just exercise. Too much sitting shortens and weakens this muscle complex, causing an exaggerated curve in the lower back known as lordosis, which in turn tightens the muscles of the lumbar spine causing pain and instability. Another cause of weakness is inefficient recruitment, like say, if you were a long distance runner. Iliopsoas just goes along for the ride when your knees and hips stay below 90 degrees because you are running at a slower, more methodical pace. Even though you are maintaining a good level of fitness, overtime iliopsoas will weaken because it is not really being strengthened. Add old age to the equation, which naturally reduces muscle strength and viability, and you have all the factors that directly affect this muscular unit. Well, almost. What else is located in the deep recesses of your belly? Your guts.
Aside from your abs, the iliopsoas (specifically psoas major) keeps that lower abdomen flat, preventing the intestines from pushing forward as it creates a kind of long shelf for them to rest in. In times of elevated stress and emotional issues, your psoas major tightens and is less efficient at keeping your guts at bay. Primordially tied into our “fight or flight” nervous system, the psoas is our true “gut” muscle, stabilizing and destabilizing at the will of our environment. Digestion and other non-essential activities cease when we are on high alert leading to a buildup of toxins, inflammation and other muscular disturbances. And speaking of said disturbances, also located in the lower right corner of your abdomen in the region of iliopsoas is a valve known as the ileocaecal valve (IVC). It is where digested food passes from the small intestine into the large intestine, so that water and vitamin absorption can occur and toxins can be eliminated. This valve is designed to open for the above function and then close to prevent back-up. Any number of factors including stress, diet, parasites and irritation of the nerves that power the valve can cause it to stay in either a closed or open position. This leads to a buildup of toxins where they do not belong. The body responds with fluid retention and a host of symptoms such as joint and muscular aches/pains, circulatory problems, pinched nerves or even whole body arthritis. How does this affect iliopsoas? One of the most common symptoms is low back pain that comes on suddenly and with no explained cause. Picture yourself sitting one minute, then getting a sharp, stabbing pain in your lower back upon getting up. This low back pain is due to the close relationship iliacus has with the valve. Any dysfunction refers to this muscle, which in turn destabilizes the lumbar spine and affects the surrounding musculature in the back and hip. Chiropractors, Massage Therapists who specialize in Applied Kinesiology and Naturopaths can all address this issue effectively through a variety of changes to one’s diet, exercise and with soft tissue manipulation to name a few techniques. Do not underestimate the importance of this muscle complex. Its betrayal by either pathological and/or other causes can have severe repercussions in the whole body. Keep your guts and back in perfect alignment and they will take care of you.
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