Category Archives: Biomechanics

PSOAS Plus

“Your psoas is tight”

“I have a pain here (pointing to the anatomical muscular attachment place of the psoas on the inner thigh) and I think it is my psoas”

“I am told my psoas is my problem”

Have you said, been told or heard someone express these statements in one form or another? As a movement professional, I have heard and been told, even about my own body by other professionals, these very thoughts about the psoas.

For those who are not body professionals, the psoas is a complex, very long muscle that runs from the base of the ribs (12th rib) and 12th vertebrae of the thorax and runs along the spine merging with all sorts of other connective tissue (other muscles, fascia, bone and more). According to the muscle anatomy books, the psoas attaches to a bony protuberance on the inner upper thigh bone called the lesser trochanter. The body professionals, who are very committed to learning and discovering how the body thrives, moves and heals, have different opinions of the actual function of the psoas in terms of posture and movement.

How do you know your psoas is tight? Many answers would be my hip flexors are tight. Yes, the ability to extend your hip may be limited. Is it only the psoas restricting the movement? Are you purely moving the hip joint (normal pure hip extension is 10°-15°) or is your range including the movement of the pelvis and spine creating a larger range? Your hip flexors include all of the muscles that are on the anterior (front and inner sides of the hip).

See the illustration to save me from typing the names of many muscles! What you may not be aware of is that the fascial connections and relationships of the front of the hip allow for good range of hip extension.

Is the psoas a hip flexor in active straight leg raise?

It is possible that fascial restrictions are limiting the range of motion, causing discomfort or torque of the spine and pelvis. An example would be a restriction of the fascia of the scapula that merges into the ribcage and pulls on the opposite side pelvis. This will spiral the body in a direction where extension of the hip and spine can be restricted.

In a recent training, Madeline Black’s Immersive Body Training, I was demonstrating and teaching the details and techniques for working the “psoas”. We cannot talk about or work with the psoas without addressing other structures. The psoas does not perform alone nor does it affect our posture and movements alone. We decided to say “Psoas Plus”  rather than “psoas” to be inclusive of all that is in the neighborhood of the psoas and how other structures influence movement.

Another reference that is made to a tight psoas is the pelvis position and spine while standing. Most people are told that an anterior pelvis (when the top of the pelvis from the front is tipped forward which increases hip flexion) is an indication of a tight psoas. The reasoning is the notion that the psoas influences the spine. There is no objective data determining actual skeletal position or where the curve is coming from. Someone may have very tight back muscles (erectors) without the support of the abdominals in the front and around the waist (myofascial core ring) and tight hip flexors (see illustration again) that pull the pelvis forward. If this person lies down on their back, the spine would be extended off the table, and the pelvis in an anterior tilt. Saying this is a psoas issue is simply inaccurate.

What is the function and dysfunction of the psoas? As is cited by Gibbons, Comerford and Emerson, the function of the psoas is lumbar stability and the initial action of drawing the head of the femur into the socket prior to hip flexion.
Stability Function of the Psoas Major by Gibbons, Comerford and Emerson

I think of the psoas as a lumbar spine stabilizer and femoral head spinner (the micro-movement initiator of hip flexion), and a hip stabilizer. One indication of a non-functioning psoas is when someone expresses a pinching pain when performing hip flexion. The head of the femur is not sitting well in the socket and the psoas is not able to draw the head into the socket. Teaching the clients or yourself how to engage the psoas prior to moving the leg is a necessary exercise to begin retraining the psoas.

When we do movements that are called psoas releases or stretches, remember you are actually moving the whole system –  the spine, intrinsic muscles of the spine, and again all that is living in the neighborhood. These movements and stretches do feel good and have benefits of improving body movement. And there are so many ways to move and change the tensions so that we have a supple spine.

You can learn more about how to work with the Psoas Plus by attending my Psoas as a Core Muscle workshop at Pilates on Tour in London, Pilates on Tour London
or Pre-conference Pilates on Tour in New Orleans Pilates on Tour New Orleans Pre-Conference Spine by Design
or attending one of the Madeline Black Immersive Body Trainings. http://www.madelineblack.com/workshops/

Below is a video where I am working the Psoas Plus by engaging the leg through hamstring activity, at the same time reaching the same side leg by pressing into the wall, and moving the spine into flexion using the opposite leg so that the spine can move toward the floor creating an active lengthening of the Psoas Plus! I will be posting more Psoas Plus movements in my Member Blog. http://www.madelineblack.com/memberships/

Illustration of the psoas is from “Centered” by Madeline Black, permission by Handspring Publishers

What Drives Movement? Contemplations after attending “Muscles and Meridians” Workshop with Phillip Beach

phillip beach and madeline black pilatesAfter spending three days with Phillip Beach, D.O. from Wellington, New Zealand, I ask how can anyone imagine and think about the human body in parts? However, we all do, it has been ingrained in our consciousness. We learn early on “the foot bone is connected to knee bone” instantly conjuring up the Halloween skeleton. We are taught in school about the individual parts, the organs, blood, nerves and the brain. Then we advance in the different systems circulatory, lymphatic, and musculoskeletal. Today, medicine is practiced with specialties in isolation. Movement and fitness trainers always reference one muscle when exercising. Think about it, we are a whole organism. My studies and practice of Integrative Manual Therapy (IMT) taught me to expand my view of the body as a holistic one. The influence of all the systems, our emotions, and our relationship in the world all acts on how the body moves, feels and functions. Dr. Phillip Beach is asking for a clearer, more accurate model on whole organism movement. He has been synthesizing his Osteopathy and Acupuncture practices to create a new model. His workshop was all confirming for me on how I perceive whole body movement.

When we perform any movement or even think about moving, the body responds in its entirety. When someone is performing a movement and asks “What muscles am I using?” is a naïve and silly question (to quote Dr. Beach “a bloody stupid question!”).  ANY movement you do, your whole body is engaged. Even if you are sitting on a bench and only lifting a hand weight as in a bicep curl, you are not only contracting the biceps. The blood is flowing, nerves are working, the breath is moving, and organs have movement. You simply cannot move with only muscles!

pilates fish primal pilates dolphins pilates squatting pilates natural squat

Movement has patterns and the patterns are typically described in the form of planes of motion. If we watch fish, for instance, they move side to side through the water. Mammals have different motions. The dolphin has a combination of side to side and forward to back (we call this flexion and extension). Humans mastered being upright and walking. The evolution of our structure, the shape, allows us to rotate. Rotation and counter rotation enables us to be bipedal and walk. We have fundamental movement sequences. As we age, or become injured, we loose some of these basic movements.

Watch my Erectorcises video.

An interesting model of movement presented by Dr. Phillip Beach was one of contractile fields. The word contractile is used to avoid any reference to any specific anatomical term or structure. Fields gives a dynamic description of “spacio-temporal activity” meaning we move in space from a response rather than “a geometric image of a momentary time-slice in the organisms history”. In early development of the human embryo, the subdivision of the embryonic body happens in fields prior to development of specific organs or structures. It is a mystery how the fields creates the development, and movement of cells that evolve into a highly sophisticated human body.

Watch my Primal Sitting Postures exercise video.

muscles and meridians book by phillip beachI highly recommend you read his book, Muscles and Meridians to fully comprehend the description and analysis of each of the contractile fields. Side to side movement would live in the lateral contractile field. In Pilates, I think of Lateral Tilts on Large Barrel. The dorsal/ventral field is the front and back movement or flexion and extension, think Rollup. The helical field is a spiral field, think Seated Push Through (Around the World) on the Cadillac. Radial field, (one of my favorites) think any and all movements it creates elongation! All the fields interact with each other and cannot exist without the other. The fluid field, and chiralic field are equally important to our movement model. Read about them in his book, very enlightening.

So, what drives movement? Dr. Beach presented seven primary building blocks to model whole organism movement patterns.

  1. Mesoderm, an embryological term describing a mid layer, between an inner and outer layer of the embryo body. It formed your muscles, bones, blood, heart, 2 kidneys, gonads, dermis of the skin, lymph cells, and spleen. It is the part that moves us. We wouldn’t be able to move if we never had this layer.
  2. Mammalian movement patterns
  3. Sense organs
  4. Suboccipital complex (upper most part of the neck) and spinal gearbox (three dimensional motion of the spine specifically the lumbo-pelvic-sacral area), both necessary for the rotational movements
  5. Limb rotation, legs a spring
  6. The coelom (fluid space)/kidneys, the fluid field
  7. Pulsatile (heart) and peristaltic (gut) movement

As I review this list, I see a picture: the original body map in the embryonical development of the tissues from the same layer, therefore of the same field. Our distinct movement patterns are driven by our sense organs, connection to the nervous system with the unique mechanical advantage of the ability to move in a helical spiral to walk. The body’s squeezing and dilating movement influences our tissue quality and ability to move freely. The brain works with large fields, not individual muscles. All the fields are intertwined creating the whole.

Those of you familiar with my work, I use other models to define movement and understand how to approach it in the best possible way in order to perform better in any movement. I always refer to Kapandji, my IMT manuals, and other books that describe mechanics. These are all models of movement defined by a person, the author. The intention of creating a model is to simplify and explain the complexity of the body. A currently popular model is Anatomy Trains by Thomas Meyers. His model is a fascial and muscle (myofascial) one based on his dissections and Rolfing. The pattern of movement of a living organism is missing, the fluids, heart and gut movement greatly influences our tissues. If the blood flow is restricted, the pressure increases and stiffens our tissues. The movement is restricted and tight feeling. Or if your gut has an issue, it can upset the whole biochemistry and movement of the lower area of the body. For example, when potassium is low, muscles tend to cramp up involuntarily. Each aspect of our whole organism is interactive. Balance of all parts of us, the whole of us is important for healthy movement.

How will I integrate this work into my practice? I am just beginning to in terms of using it as an analogy and thought process on how to approach the body. It has increased my level of perception. Will my movement repertoire be that different? I don’t think so because the fields are living in our body (and off our body). Any movement practice, Pilates, Yoga or Gyrotonic™ all move from the fields. There are basic Archetypal Postures that according to Dr. Beach retune and self –correct your body when you are out of tune. I took his advice and have been practicing these since the workshop. He also promotes walking barefoot on uneven surfaces like a rock garden. My husband is building me my own little rock pathway to walk on. At Studio M we are using a rocky area to walk on.

I encourage you to walk barefoot in a rock garden (work up to 20 minutes) and add these simple but not so easy movements to your daily routine. Work yourself into it easily and remember to judge the discomfort.

walk barefoot

Erectorcises

Madeline shares her insight of Phillip Beach, D.O. “primal postures” the full squat, and descending and ascending to the floor. The ability to move down to the floor and back up is essential to the human body. We loose this ability. Practicing the full squat, getting up and down from the floor strengthens all the large muscles and is at the core of the human structure.

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