Bridge to Health Blog
Bridge to Health Blog

The Ilio-psoas muscle

Written by Mathieu Rossano   Posted in:Osteopathy   June 13, 2017

The Ilio-psoas muscle
One may well argue that it makes no sense to write a blog about one muscle when osteopaths keep spouting about the body being one functional unit where each constituent part contributes to an overall harmonious outcome.  Yet some muscles tell an interesting story about where we are at and where headed as a species (as osteopaths, we lay our fingers on that evolutionary “pulse” every day of the week, and it doesn’t always make “good reading”…)

The ilio-psoas is one such (composite) muscle: its psoas component is deep-rooted inside the abdomen and flows majestically and obliquely from the lumbar spine through the groin where it is joined by the iliacus element originating from the inner pelvis, to ultimately attach onto the upper inner shaft of the femur; rather tellingly, it is overwhelmingly – and often exclusively - described in anatomy manuals as our most powerful hip flexor – no doubt correct, but to the exclusion of its other very significant role, that of postural stabilisation, preventing our hunter-gatherer ancestors, and modern-day athletes, from injuring their back in over-extension when reaching upwards and backwards.

Anatomy of the Ilio-Psoas Muscle

Our societal problem today is that with complete disregard to the original design and intent, we have proceeded to sit doing nothing (other than our job as it materialises on our screens!), causing this muscle to shorten chronically and often asymmetrically as we then proceed to cross one leg by preference over the other. 
Ironically, we then often have to listen to patients tell us how they keep themselves fit by attending a couple of spin classes a week, and then come over as jaundiced kill-joys by raising the concern that whilst they may be achieving a decent cardio-vascular workout, they are also causing some muscles to power up whilst chronically shortened, leaving them, and related structures such as the spine, open to injury… ever wondered why Chris Froome can’t even stand up straight when he gets off his bike?

Furthermore, that muscle is very vulnerable and reactive to any form of trauma like a side sports tackle, a fall, a car accident or prosaically, a jarring step off a pavement or down stairs.
Most particularly in the instance of one-sided contracture, an offended ilio-psoas can be a real “ship-wrecking” agent: it engenders compression of the hip joint that can certainly accelerate the onset of hip arthritis, it causes shearing or torsion of the pelvis and side-bending of the lumbar spine, all of which leave a person open to a sudden very unpleasant acute accident… and fill up our osteopathic waiting rooms!  It is a – when not the – root-cause of virtually every instance of lower back or pelvic pain presenting in our clinic.

So what can be done to prevent this scenario?

Well the first thing to encourage you to do is ensure you spend less time “just seated” and have a fidgeting strategy during the working day! Read our recent blog on this very subject.
We will also encourage you to fight the temptation of crossing legs at work, as well as other exotic seated arrangements such as sitting with one leg under your buttocks, sitting with your lap top in your lap etc.

It would also be wise to engage in regular stretches of the ilio-psoas – please ask your Osteopath to demonstrate these next time you visit
If you have any questions or wish to consult us about the causes of back or pelvic pain, please email us at or ring us on 01985 2000 50

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