The Role of the Psoas Muscle in Lower Back Pain
Lower back pain comes in many different shapes and sizes. Some patients may describe their pain as a dull ache, whereas others experience something more akin to a sharp stab. Some may even find that their pain radiates into distant parts of their body, such as from the back and into the leg or foot. This is because the back is a smorgasbord of different muscles, and they each play unique roles in the body’s motion.
With lower back pain, no matter what kind of pain it is, it generally involves the psoas muscle in some form or fashion. If you want to get specific, then you may even say the iliopsoas muscle. This muscle has an “S” shape and is found at the lowest part of the spine (attached to the last 5 vertebrae). It also runs through the pelvic area and terminates at the femur bone. In actuality, you have two iliopsoas muscles that run symmetrically down either side of the body.
Although the psoas plays a key role in many different movements, its main task is to stabilize the lower back when you lift the knee upward. Additionally, the psoas is vital for balance, and you commonly exercise it whenever you walk or bend forward.
The psoas muscle is also a crucial determinant in our body’s range of motion. A patient with an abnormality in this muscle will experience joint stiffness in the lower back, hip, and extremities.
Psoas Muscle Injury
One of the worst things that you can do to your psoas muscle is to lead a sedentary lifestyle. Long periods of inactivity will ultimately contract the psoas muscle. When this occurs, it leads to stiffness and reduced mobility. These symptoms will become especially apparent in the lower back and hip.
Of course, psoas injury does not end there. Some people may also experience issues with this muscle as a result of a variety of problems. These include strain, spasms, tendonitis, contractures, and more. The psoas muscle may also contract if the back becomes misaligned. Usually, misalignment in the back leads to the patient leaning more toward one side of the body than the other. Naturally, this causes muscle contraction and may co-occur with other back problems, such as sciatica or bulging discs.
Symptoms of a Contracted Psoas
A telltale sign of back pain associated with psoas contraction is back strain doesn’t go away. This can include psoas pain that is already being treated by a doctor. Instead of a return to normalcy, the condition just keeps getting worse and worse. Usually, this type of psoas pain radiates from the lumbar region into the thoracic and cervical areas. In some cases, discomfort may even spread to the nearby region of the hip.
In addition, this condition may also coincide with other lumbar back problems. Usually, the condition occurs in athletes (due to strain) and office workers (because of a more sedentary lifestyle). If you overwork the psoas, it will become weaker with time. This prevents the muscle from being able to handle everyday strain as easily. When this happens, the muscle may spasm or even tear.
Muscle tissue heals extremely slowly, so patients should do everything in their power to avoid this outcome. Tears in the psoas muscle will lead to scarring after they heal, which will cause long-term pain and weakness. Not only that, but muscle injury may also occur in muscles that surround the psoas. This is the result of these muscle systems overcompensating to make up for the psoas abnormality. In the absolute worst case scenarios, this may lead to disc herniation in the lumbar spine.
Because psoas pain often spreads to other areas, it can be very hard for patients to self-diagnose their condition. If you are experiencing chronic lower back pain or even discomfort in seemingly unrelated areas, then talk to your doctor. This is especially true if you have been using conservative treatments over several weeks to no avail.
How Does a Contracted Psoas Muscle Lead to Pain?
Whenever the psoas muscle contracts, it pulls the spine into a condition known as hyperlordosis. The muscle pulls and shortens the spine into an over-arched position. Naturally, this puts a lot of strain on your spinal muscles, most notably the erector spinae. Muscles are not the only affected tissues, however, as psoas contraction strains vertebral joints as well. This is ultimately what causes the painful symptoms associated with the condition.
This is only one example, however. For instance, a tight psoas muscle leads to tension on its connecting tendons. This tension also causes pain in the lumbar spine. In some cases, the tightness affects spinal nerve roots, which irritates the nerves. And lastly, nerve pain is what causes the pain from a tight or contracted psoas to spread.
A contracted psoas muscle will also cause compression of the spinal discs and joints. This is because the muscle pulls and twists the vertebrae, leading to compression. Spinal compression causes pain and will eventually wear down the spinal structures as time goes by. This leads to structural damage, degenerative disc diseases, and sometimes herniation.
Treatment For a Contracted Psoas Muscle
One of the most effective treatments for any back pain is user awareness. Basically, this means that you should take every opportunity to educate yourself about your condition. There are plenty of free resources available online that provide great advice, as well as books that you can purchase written by specialists.
Unfortunately, the location of the iliopsoas muscle makes it hard for a doctor to fully examine it. In other words, it is simply hard to reach. This is why it is important to see a qualified doctor instead of attempting to self-diagnose the problem.
The goal of psoas muscle treatment is primarily to change lifestyle problems. The best way to treat back pain is to avoid it. If your work environment requires you to sit for long periods of time, then find a small moment to take a break and stretch your muscles. It does not seem like it would help all that much, but it really does. Remember that spinal problems develop in small increments over long periods of time; so, every little stretch helps.
Most treatments of lumbar back pain from the psoas muscle are conservative. People usually resort to physical therapy as well as natural remedies such as CBD oil or turmeric. Combining these tinctures and tonics with stretching exercises is really the most effective way to treat your psoas muscle. If you do decide to stretch your psoas muscle, make sure that you are performing appropriate exercises. You absolutely do not want to overstretch this muscle, as that will cause even more pain and problems.
Stretching Exercises For The Psoas Muscle
Here is an example of a great stretch that you can perform anywhere and anytime:
First, find a carpeted area or an area with soft flooring. In a pinch, you can even lay down a towel to cushion your exercise area. Begin by dropping your left knee down, while extending the same leg away from the body. At this stage, the toes on this leg should be touching the ground. Next, place your right leg in front of you in a flat-footed stance. Your right leg should be at a 90-degree angle in this step. After that, you want to use the buttock muscles to drive your left knee backward and down. Make sure that you perform this step gently. As you do this, you want to maintain proper posture by keeping your head upright and your shoulders tall. Lastly, hold this position for 30 seconds.
You can then repeat this exercise on the opposite leg. This stretch is best performed 2 or 3 times a day. If it is your first time attempting the stretch, you may want to do it in front of a mirror to make sure that you are doing it right.
Do you have lower back pain that keeps getting worse no matter what you do? Does the pain even radiate to other areas of your body? If so, please contact us at (973) 538-0900. Our team of back doctors at The Advanced Spine Center includes leading experts in the field of minimally invasive surgical procedures, as well as conservative options. We will help you develop a customized treatment plan that best suits your specific needs.