April 10, 2024/Exercise & Fitness

5 Psoas Stretches and Exercises

Counteract psoas muscle stiffness and soreness with stretches that lengthen and strengthen

Person in office doing leg lifts

Running from each of your upper inner thighs, over your pelvis bone and to the sides of your spine are two long ribbons of muscle that make a big difference in how you stand, sit, walk and more.

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They’re your psoas muscles (that’s pronounced “SO-ezz”), and they have two primary uses. For starters, your psoas muscles work as hip flexors. That allows you to do things like move your knees up toward your body, like when you march or walk up stairs. They also help keep your spine stable when you’re standing, walking, bending and more.

And when they’re weak or aggravated, your psoas muscles can be a real pain. Literally. Particularly in your lower back or the front of your hips.

Of course, lots of things can cause back pain, so it’s important to know where your pain is coming from in order to manage it properly. But if your healthcare provider has suggested your psoas muscles are the culprit, there are several psoas stretches and exercises that can help relieve aches and stiffness.

“Your psoas can be aggravated from under-use as well as over-use,” says board-certified physical therapist and certified strength and conditioning specialist Dawn Lorring, PT. “If you’re sitting for a long period of time, your psoas muscles can get angry when you try to stand. Likewise, if you do something your body isn’t used to, like take a long walk on a hilly road, it can irritate your psoas muscles because you’re asking them to do much more than you usually do.”

Lorring walks us through some of the psoas stretches and exercises to lengthen and strengthen these important muscles.

Best stretches and exercises for psoas muscle

Tightness and pain in your psoas typically stem from muscles that are weak or that need to be stretched out. Or a combination of both.

“If we spend long times in one position, like sitting at your desk, your psoas muscles get stiff because they’ve been shortened for long periods,” Lorring explains. “When you don’t use it, you lose it. So weakness sets in.”

Lorring shares these psoas stretches ways to help give your muscles the attention they need. (Bonus: Most of them don’t even need any exercise equipment!)

Leg dangle

  1. Lie in bed on your back, with your body near the edge of the mattress.
  2. Bend the leg that’s closer to the middle of the bed up to your chest.
  3. Wrap your arms around the lower part of that leg to squeeze it close.
  4. Allow your other leg to dangle off the side of the bed.
  5. Hold for several seconds.
  6. Move to the opposite side of the bed and repeat with the other leg.

Why does it help?

“The dangling leg gets the benefit of being in a really comfortable position for the psoas muscle and it helps to let it relax and lengthen,” Lorring points out. “It’s a good stretch to try to counteract long periods of sitting and shortening your psoas.”

Half kneel

  1. Kneel on the ground on both knees.
  2. Raise your bottom off your feet.
  3. Plant your left foot in front of you, keeping both knees bent.
  4. Keep your back straight and your butt muscles tight as you lean into your left leg. You should feel a deep stretch in the front part of your right hip.
  5. Repeat with your right foot in front of you.

“The trick with that one is that it requires some focus on your form,” Lorring clarifies. “If you arch your back, you won’t get the stretch in your psoas that you’re looking for. You want to pull your buttock muscles tight so that you don’t let your back arch.”

That may mean not lunging as far forward as you think you “should.” And that’s OK.

“More is not better. Proper form is better. That’s what’s going to help your muscles the most,” she emphasizes.

Leg lift

  1. Stand with your legs about shoulder-width apart.
  2. Lift one leg, bending it at the knee and pointing your toes down. Keep your other foot planted on the floor with your knee straight (but not locked tight).
  3. Hold for a few seconds and lower your leg.
  4. Repeat for several repetitions.
  5. Repeat with the other leg.

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March

Add strength to your psoas muscles by giving them some work. Remember that your psoas muscles help to lift your knees. So bringing your knees up toward your chest is an effective way to get them going.

You can try:

  1. Marching in place. (Hold the back of a chair for balance if you need to.)
  2. March instead of walking across your house.
  3. March while seated (as shown above).

Yoga ball or stability ball hip extension and psoas stretch

If you have access to a yoga ball (also called a stability ball), it can be used to help lengthen your psoas muscles.

  1. Kneel on the floor with the yoga ball in front of you.
  2. Roll your upper body onto the ball, until your hands and toes are touching the ground. Keep your body in a straight line.
  3. Balance on your hands and your left leg as you lift your right leg toward the ceiling, bending at your right knee (similar to a “donkey kick” exercise.)
  4. Keep your right leg bent as you lower it toward the floor.
  5. Repeat several repetitions.
  6. Repeat by lifting your left leg.

“This is a good exercise because it’s making your buttock muscles work, which allows the psoas muscles at the front of your hips to relax and strengthen,” Lorring says.

Psoas still bothering you?

In addition to psoas muscle stretches, making a few changes to your daily routine can make a big difference.

If you’re spending long hours working at your desk, set a timer to encourage you to stand up and walk around every hour or so. Same goes if you’re in the car for long hours. Take a rest from driving and give your psoas some work with some marching and stretching.

But if psoas stretches and some extra movement aren’t cutting it, talking with a healthcare provider can help.

“It’s not always obvious what’s causing muscle pain and why,” Lorring shares. “Getting evaluated by a physical therapist can help you get to the root of the problem: Is it tightness? Weakness? A combination of both?”

Seeking care can help to ensure you’re addressing the right problem — and managing it with the right solutions.

Remember, though, whatever you do, take it slow and steady. Too much too fast can exaggerate the problem.

“Angry muscles won’t tolerate stretches,” Lorring says. “Start gentle and work your way up.”

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