Functional Anatomy Part 4: The Illiopsoas (Hip Flexors)

If you sit in front of a computer, mountain bike, cross country ski, snowshoe or ride the ski hill chances are your Illiopsoas muscle affects your life. This large muscle group is a definite troublemaker and causes plenty of low back pain in the Elk Valley because it is so commonly neglected. So if you are affected by lower back pain and want to learn more about it read on.

1. Where is this muscle?
The Illiopsoas, commonly referred to as the hip flexor, is made up of the illiacus and psoas muscles. The Illiacus originates in the inside of the hipbone area (illium and sacrum) and the psoas originates in the lateral aspects of 6 vertebrae: T12 to L-5. Both muscles insert into the inside of the upper part of the femur (upper leg) bone.

2. What does it do?
This muscle is the major motor behind hip flexion (lifting up your leg when walking) and also plays a part in hip adduction (bringing your leg in) and external hip rotation. Any time you are doing sports where you are bent at the hip, your hip flexors are hard at work.

3. Common injuries?
Hip flexor inflexibility is a frequent contributor to lower back pain or injury because they are so often used and so rarely stretched. When this area gets tight, it creates lumbar lordosis (an exaggerated lower back arch). Not only is this muscle used frequently, every time you sit this muscle is shortened, hence why people who work at desk jobs often have lower back pain. When you perform movements with lumbar lordosis, the spine becomes hyperextend and bingo- low back pain. Weak abdominals exacerbate this condition because they fail to assist your spine in staying stable.

4. How do you strengthen this muscle?
This muscle gets involved with most lower abdominal exercises and any exercises where you lift your upper leg up (walking, marching) or are in a forward bent stance. Generally, this muscle does not need to be strengthened, but needs to be controlled during exercise using the abdominals to hold it in neutral position rather than extended so it does not cause lower back discomfort. Should you have lower back discomfort during an exercise, try to decrease your lower back arch by doing a pelvic tilt and tighten your abdominals prior to the movement. If you have difficulties with the pelvic tilt, practice by lying on the floor with your knees bent and flatten your lower back into the floor. You should not work to having the space completely flat, but a tiny space between your back and the floor, enough for a butterfly to fly through.

5. How do you stretch this muscle?
The hip flexors can be stretched using a lunge type position either on the floor or standing. Make sure you do a pelvic tilt first into a neutral low back, then lunge forwards to a maximum of four inches. Clenching your gluteal (bum) muscles together and reaching your arms to the roof can increase the stretch. Take 5-10 slow breaths per side. Remember, you should never feel any discomfort when stretching.

Make an appointment with a professional if you have more questions regarding specific muscles or how to set up an exercise program to suit your individual needs. Keep in mind this is a simple explanation of this muscle - get in touch if you would like more detail.

Remember that you should never exercise through pain and of course please play safely and have fun!