Sunday, October 21, 2012

Let's Get Back, To Our Backs

The following articles were condensed from material at Alliance Martial Arts, and Stronglifts. Copyrights belong to them. If they ask me to take them down, they're gone.

Read on boys.

The Invisible Assassins: Iliopsoas

There is a hidden menace that any one of us could have to deal with as martial athletes. A pair of "invisible assassins" if you will, who can put you out of action and yet you'll never see them!

Why? Because they are hidden deep within your body!

I speak of a very important set of muscles that are essential to your everyday life yet are normally ignored; the iliopsosas!

The iliopsoas are actually 2 different muscles (Illiacus & Psoas), but they are often referred to together, because they work together. (Like the Quadriceps which are actually 4 separate muscles). These muscles attach at the low back, hip and upper leg bone. Their main function is to flex the hip. In addition to this, the psoas is one of the main reasons we are able to maintain an upright posture .

The problem comes in if the iliopsoas becomes overly contracted. This can be caused several ways. These include over training, improper technique in training, lack of stretching, and prolonged periods of sitting especially sitting with the knees higher than the hips like when in a car. With the emphasis on core strength training and dynamic motion from the dan-tien (harra in Japanese) that is inherent to the martial arts you see how these muscles can get over worked between conditioning and training!

This over-contraction of the iliopsoas will cause pain and limit your range of motion. Bending forward will be difficult and sitting will become near impossible, particularly anytime your knees are higher than your hips as mentioned.

What makes this particularly deceptive is the fact that the pain will NOT be felt in the iliopsoas but instead will be felt as referred pain elsewhere in the body! Typically the pain referral is in the lower back, hip, kidney region and even into the front of the thighs!

While massage work in those areas will feel nice temporarily, it will NOT deal with the root problem in the iliopsoas. Your relief if any will be temporary and the pain will return in time. This cycle will continue until the iliopsoas muscles get treatment to release them. This is not usually something that just goes away by itself.

Here's an easy test you can do to see if your iliopsoas is overly contracted. While standing, see if you can extend your back. You do this by leaning backwards, as if you were going to go back into a bridge. If the muscle is locked in contraction, extension will be limited.

To release the iliopsoas muscles, deep constant pressure is used along the length of the muscle from hips upward. The steady pressure must be maintained until it causes the golgi tendon apparatus in the muscle to relax. (As covered in a past Training Tip on the medical aspects of atemi / dim mak / vital point strikes the golgi tendon apparatus is what regulates muscular tension and knowledge of how to find and activate them explains many things in the arts.)
The best thing to do is to go to a professional massage therapist who specializes in deep tissue or better yet trigger-point work. Some applied kinesiologists incorporate this work as well. A session of about 20 minutes is needed to release the iliopsoas. The area is usually very sensitive and the work may be uncomfortable. Your therapist should be able to go slow enough to minimize the discomfort but let's just say that it's not the kind of massage where you're going to drift off to sleep.

To work this muscle yourself, lay on your back and work the area in the abdomen between the ribs and the hips about an inch or so out from the belly button. To locate this muscle do the following: with your hand at the top of your hip bone, turn your foot out and lift your leg straight up and you will feel the muscle move. Work slowly from hip to ribs, applying steady firm pressure and waiting for the release.

A great stretch for the iliopsoas is the cobra or 'upward dog' posture from Yoga. If you are unfamiliar with this, simply lay on your belly, put your hands on the floor by your shoulders, and press your upper body off the floor leaving your hips and legs flat. The gymnastic style back bridge (on the hands, not on the head) is another good stretch to try. Just do it over one of those large exercise balls if you're hurting.

The defense against this invisible assassin is keeping these muscles flexible and happy! You'll be amazed at the difference in your back comfort and increased range of motion.

From An Article at

Where and What is My Psoas? The Psoas is one of the largest and thickest muscles in the body. It attaches to the vertebrae of your lower back, and the head of your femur (thigh bone).

The Psoas is primarily responsible for hip and thigh flexion and has a lot of influence over your lumbar posture and the way your hips are positioned.

When you're sitting for a prolonged period of time, your Psoas is in a shortened position. Leave it for long enough, and it will start to think this is normal. Your tissues want to move into that resting position. Leaving you tight & contracted.

Incorrect posture during standing and walking (which is often caused by a tight Psoas) will leave it even tighter and harder to loosen.

Why Does It Cause Back Pain? A tight Psoas is a killer for your back for various reasons.

If it is tight and in a contracted state, your Psoas will want to bring your lower back forward, moving you into an anterior tilt: lordotic posture.
The pressure exerted by the Psoas whilst in a contracted state can compress the joints and discs of the lumbar vertebrae. This pressure causes degeneration and will make them more susceptible to injury.
A shortened Psoas on one side will pull the spine or pelvis to that side, leading to many painful problems, including scoliosis.
A tight Psoas will stop your Glutes firing and activating normally. This is Reciprocal Inhibition: the Psoas and the Glutes are opposing muscles.

Lack of Glute activity plus horrific posture can lead to overcompensation in other muscles of the back, leaving them tight and overworked. Couple this with the referring pain from the trigger points in your Psoas and you will be hurting.

Tips to Avoid A Tight Psoas. There are several ways to stop your Psoas turning into a hazardous plank of wood. All of which are easy to implement and should be even if you don’t suffer from back pain yet. Here goes…

Postural Corrections. If we stay in a certain position all day, our tissues will want to move into that resting position, in this case, your Psoas. The best sitting posture is one that always changes.
Sit Back in Your Chair. This will stop you leaning forward as much, and thus your Psoas won’t be in as shortened position in comparison to when you sit on the edge of your seat.
Stop Hooking Your Feet under Your Chair. You put yourself in more hip flexion and therefore, more Psoas activation. Set your feet flat on the floor, or a raised platform if you are a shortie.
Stand Up When Performing Exercises. You sit all day at work and keep your Psoas shortened. Do the opposite in the gym. Instead of the bike, get on the treadmill. Sub in Overhead Press instead of Seated Press.
Stop Sleeping on Your Stomach. When you are on your stomach, your back goes into hyperextension. This is exacerbating what a tight Psoas already does to your back (anterior tilt). Change it up.
Move More. Not staying in a seated position all day will go a long way to stopping you developing a tight Psoas. Get up more frequently, stretch more often, change positions… just keep moving!

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