The Iliopsoas Muscle: Everything You Need To Know About Trigger And Pain Points
When harboring trigger points or overly tightened, the iliopsoas muscle can cause back and thigh pain.
To help you relieve any pain or discomfort, I will document the location of this muscle in the body, its function.
In this article, I will discuss the areas that cause pain, the causes of pain/discomfort and tightness, the type of movements affected, as well as how to massage and feel the muscle.
You are free to go straight to the part where you learn about feeling and massaging this muscle right now, where all practical applications of this information are located because you will use a self-massage to relieve any tension or discomfort.
However, to properly understand why this muscle might be causing you so much trouble, I still recommend reading the rest of the information in this article sooner rather than later.
1. Iliopsoas Muscle Symptoms And Pain Patterns
a) The Pain Patterns
You may experience pain in the upper thigh and lower back regions of your body as a result of the iliopsoas muscle, as indicated in the diagram below.
The pain/discomfort is more prevalent in areas marked by a darker shade of red.
However, what is the leading cause of this pain? The development of trigger points and elevated levels of tension in the muscle lead to this occurrence. These are the most common symptoms of overusing the muscle and usually results in pain/discomfort.
Fortunately, conducting self-massage on yourself will help you relieve this tightness, and the associated pain trigger points.
Trigger points and associated patterns of pain
b) Signs of Muscle and Joint Pain
The primary function of the iliopsoas muscle is the flexion of the hip. This, therefore, means that since the muscle would get stretched by such movement, and impaired extension of your hip is the primary indicator of a problematic iliopsoas muscle.
The muscle cannot extend appropriately if it is too tight. In some cases, the range of motion is reduced and may cause discomfort. For instance, whenever you propel your body forward with every step taken, your hip extends.
Ultimately, you might start experiencing discomfort or pain when standing upright or walking. You might even be forced to crawl whenever you want to move about as you might be unable to stand or even walk in severe cases.
Suffice it to say that activities such as doing sit-ups or running, among others, requiring the exertion of this muscle would also cause a lot of discomforts.
2. Iliopsoas Muscle Attachment Points
Two, and in some cases three, muscles make up the iliopsoas muscle.
They include the psoas major, iliacus, and, in half of the population, the psoas minor.
Coming together at the same point, the iliacus and psoas major come from different parts of the body.
The last couple of lumbar and thoracic vertebrae mark the points of origin of the psoas major.
The iliac fossa, located at the front of the hip bones, marks the point of origin of the iliacus muscle. Both of these muscles then come together at the lesser trochantor, on the inner side of the thigh bone.
The first lumbar, and the last thoracic vertebrae mark the points of origin, while the pubic bone marks the location of termination of the psoas minor, where present.
Trigger points usually developed around the points marked by Xs.
c. Iliopsoas Muscle Functions
The bending of the hip is the primary function of the iliopsoas muscle.
When climbing up a flight of stairs, walking, running, or doing sit-ups, this muscle is activated.
Although some additional functions are also mentioned, there is a lot of debate surrounding them. We can ignore those other functions in this article as we are merely interested in getting a simple idea of what this muscle does, not an in-depth course on anatomy.
We are better off looking at the areas in the body that this muscle can cause discomfort.
Bending of the hip area.
Lateral movement and bending of the hip area
d. Trigger Points And Their Activation
The development of trigger points and over-tightening of the iliopsoas muscle might be as a result of overexertion of the tissue, as previously stated above. In this section, we will take a more in-depth look at what we mean by overusing and overloading.
Overusing muscles, or failure to use them as much as required, as is the case with those leading a sedentary life, results in the overload or abuse of muscles.
Excessive tension and trigger points might be caused by the following postures, motions, and movements when it comes to the iliopsoas muscle. This ultimately leads to the thigh and/or back pain.
Extended periods of sitting whether in a car or at a desk: The iliopsoas muscle is shortened, permanently when you are in a sitting position.
- Step Aerobic Exercises
- Mountain Climbing
e. Examining The Iliopsoas Muscle With Your Fingers
While locating and examining the iliopsoas muscle for tenderness is somewhat challenging, it is not as hard as most people think.
You will be okay provided that you take things slowly. Try it, and you will see it.
To get it done, follow the directions listed below, taking your time with each step, after making yourself as comfortable as possible.
The psoas major will be our starting point before moving on to the ilicus, the connecting muscle. You will be able to feel the psoas minor, if present, as you work on the psoas major, so I will ignore it for now.
5. a) Psoas Major Palpation
- Start by drawing both of your knees upwards after lying down on the floor.
- Identify the iliopsoas you intend to focus on and let your knees fall to the opposite side of this muscle.
- As per the image below, you should let your knees fall to the left if you want to focus on your right iliopsoas muscle, for instance.
In addition to drawing the intestines located in the lower part of your abdomen away from the area you intend to work on, this posture also helps tilt your hip.
- Contract your abdominal muscles after placing your fingers just next to your bellybutton. Contracting your abs is a simple as lifting your head as if you want to look at your fingers, or doing a mini crunch. Drift your hands to the right slightly until you get to the midsection, while your abdominal muscles remain in a contracted state.
- Since you need to feel your iliopsoas muscle through the abs, loosen your abdominal muscles and keep them in a relaxed state.
- Slowly press into your abdominal region using your fingers. Without pushing hard, penetrate to the lowest possible depth – a few centimeters should be enough.
- Afterward, move your fingers towards your spine – to the left.
- You should be able to feel the psoas muscle at this point.
- The tension of the muscle will determine your ability to feel it at this point.
- The slightest of touches might cause severe pain if the muscle is taut. You can consider this as a sign that you have reached your first goal – of locating the muscle – and can now embark on relieving the tension.
- Bending your hip by drawing your knee towards your chest will help you find the muscle if it is not as tight as described above. Making a slight movement is sufficient. You will feel the muscle contracting as you move.
- You can feel the entire muscle, spanning from just beneath the ribs to the groin area, where the tendons are – from this point.
f) Iliacus Muscle Palpation
- It is more challenging to feel the iliacus muscle with your fingers.
- However, finding and massaging it is straightforward, so do not fret.
- Assume the same position you did when feeling for the psoas major, as described above. Starting with your fingers on your belly button, move your hand sideways, the upper part of your hip bone being your target.
- Your iliacus is located at the front part of your pelvis.
g) Iliopsoas Muscle Self-Massage
- You will use the finger technique for this massage.
- Assume the same position you were in when feeling for the muscle.
- After you have located the muscle, start feeling for any points of tenderness.
- With no more than 15 short and low strokes, massage each point of tenderness encountered.
- You should only work on points of discomfort, moving on to the next location or muscle of concern.
Use your hands, back to back, or your fingertips aided by your other hand for support when conducting the massage. When massaging the iliacus, I usually use my fingers and switch to my hands back to back when working on the psoas.
The areas adjacent to your belly button, i.e., lower third and on the outside of the front of your pelvis, as well as the lower part of the muscle before it meets its tendons, are the main areas where you are likely to find the tender most parts of the iliopsoas muscle; here's where you need to focus your attention.
For a clear picture of the location of these points, see the muscle image.
NB: Drawing your hips towards your chest slightly, when working on the lower part of the iliopsoas will help you ensure that you don’t lose the muscle.
This will make the muscle or tendons contract, something that you will be able to feel.
Adjust the location of your fingers appropriately if you no longer feel the muscle. Since working on the upper part of the muscle helps relieve the tension built upon the lower part as well, you don't need to massage this area.
However, you might need to work on this part if you are still not relieved.
For Lasting Relief, Keep The Following In Mind
Your quadratus lumborum muscle might be to blame if your relief from pain is temporary after massaging the iliopsoas muscle.
Trigger points in the quadratus lumborum may create satellite trigger points in the iliopsoas.
You will be required to relieve this muscle as well if this turns out to be the case. Else, you won’t get the relief you seek by only massaging the iliopsoas.