Meet the Psoas – How to Deal with and Prevent Lower Back Pain

Meet the Psoas – How to Deal with and Prevent Lower Back Pain

Jul 3, 2016

Becky Wilson
The weekend of June 11, 2016, I was privleged to be the Recovery Therapist invited to work the 2016 USStrongman National Championship help at 4th Street Live in Louisville, KY.  A record breaking 314 athletes traveled from around the United States to compete among the best in their class.  Events included log clean & press, wagon wheel deadlift, fingal finger, conan’s wheel and atlas stones.

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^^4th Street Live and Equipment Setup^^

     By 7:30am, my table was set up in the middle of the street and the sign-up sheet was quickly 15 names deep.  I live for this.  I am also a Strongman competitor, having done Ice Queen and Strongest Southern Belle this year, so being there was personal.  The community of Strongman is so amazing and nothing was going to stop me from being there to help my fellow athletes… and my tribe. It was a sweltering 97 degree day and we found ourselves moving around the city block to keep in the shade of the city buildings.  Twelve hours later and 178 names on my sign-in sheet, I can honestly say I have never worked so hard during a single day in my life.
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^^Recovery Table – Wonder Twins Activate!^^
     Complaints and injuries are typical of strongman and the only thing that was nice was the worst of the injuries went to the paramedics instead of my table.  My Wonder Twin, the incomperable Dr. Todd McDougal, aka #StrongmanDoc, was not able to perform adjustments next to me due to Kentucky licensure laws, so he was free to watch, cheer and be right there for anyone who needed directions for help.  I know it was physically painful for him not be able to help the ahthletes who have come to know, love and trust him; but it was nice to see him enjoy and event and not have to work so hard.
     The weights were heavy, as they should be.  This is Nationals.  The most common complaint I worked with was a tight low back and low back pain.  The deadlift had a 13″ rise to the wagon wheel tires which lends to less glute activation and less effective hamstring loading making the lifts more quad dominant. Add in multiple reps in a 60 second time frame, you can guarantee hitching and rounding of the low back.   Let’s not forget the amount of pressure put on the low back cleaning the log, and a very heavy log at that.  Of course the low back is going to hurt, and hurt deeply.
     Deep low back pain: the kind that seems to resonate deeper than it should like it’s pulling from within your pelvis and radiating up the back as it tightens.  It makes you lean forward not wanting to stand straight upright because that worsens the pain.  Putting shoes on is painful and let’s not even talk about the dance that can occur trying to get socks on first!
     Meet the Psoas.
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     The psoas is a spinal stabilizer that attaches on the FRONT of the mid-thoracic spine and travels down diagnoally where it attaches to the iliacus, the muscle that lines the inside of the pelvis.  Together, they form the iliopsoas and go thru the hip flexor area and attach to the top of the femur under the quads.  When it is tight or strained, it will pull the spine forward, thus causing low back pain.
     Pay attention, because this part is important.  The most significant culprit to lowback pain is SITTING.  This shortens the muscle.  There is little pain associated with shortened muscles until it is stretched or strained.  Think of the deadlift motion… squat down, load hamstrings, tighten the glutes, squeeze the lats, tighten up and pull.  Now do that as many times as you can in 60 seconds paying close attention to your form and set-up each and every time.  What do you mean form starts to go? Low back rounds as hitching increases, hamstrings and glutes aren’t being used as much as the quads and back.  There goes the psoas.  It can be as simple as a strain or as serious as fracturing the spine. (Yes, I had a 16 year old Olympic Ice Skater fracture his spine in two places before he landed on my table.)
     How do I fix it?  Well, it sucks.  It hurts, a lot.  It feels like my fingers have turned into burning hot pokers and the pain will bring tears to your eyes.  And then I tell you to lift your leg and I become the most evil person on the planet at that moment.  I did this for close to 5 hours at Nationals.  And every single person who got up off the table felt significantly better and ready to keep on fighting. One guy said something about my hands having black magic in them! LOL
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^^BodyWhispering the Psoas^^
     Now how can you help yourself?
  1. Don’t be quad dominate in your lifts.  (Crossfitters – this means you! I can tell what local box a crossfitter trains at just by touching their psoas.)
  2. Keep the area diffused.  Lay on your back, place a lacrosse ball to the left or right of your belly button and down a few inches.  Put a heavy kettlebell on top of it and allow that to sink in.  Use the handles of the kettlebell to move it around.  Not sure if you are in the right spot? Lift your leg – which will make the psoas pop out.  Another idea is to lay back on a stability ball and roll a kettlebell on the abdomen.  This will soften the muscle tissue and can also help prevent herniations.  Donnie Thompson taught me this.  It’s going to hurt, but it is also going to help.
  3. DO NOT sit in bucketed seats when you are competing.  Think of the fold out chairs we take to sit in when at competitions.  Those tend to put you deep into a bucket and this shortens the psoas muscle.  After and event that leaves you hurting, you tend to sit down. This is the worst thing you can do because it allows that strained muscle to settle in a shortened position.  Lay on the ground, walk around, lean on something if you need to, but don’t sit right down.  If you need to sit, find a way to keep your hips up higher than your knees.
     Post competition or training, especially when you have given it all you’ve got to give… get into an Epsom Salt soak.  Epsom is Magnesium Sulfate which your muscle tissue uses to repair and recover.  Be generous with it too! I used 4 bags of Epsom in my bath when I got home from Louisville.  Working on close to 200 of the 314 registered athletes for 12 hours left my body pretty beat up.  Run the bath as hot as you can comfortably tolerate it, dump in the Epsom so it fully dissolves and soak for 20-30 minutes.  IF you find yourself sweating and feeling extremely uncomfortable, add some cooler water but suck it up.  This means you are magnesium deficient and your body really needs it.  Plus, it will really help you sleep better.
     Nationals athletes make thousands of choices that lead to their success.  Choosing to allow me to put my hands on them is an incredible privilege that I take very seriously.  Thank you for trusting me! Next article we’ll discuss preparing for competition conditions… like the 97 degree cloudless skies that greeted us at Giants Live in Mooresville, IN.

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2 comments

  1. aholsey1 /

    Awesome article great information.
    And you are a wonderful recovry therapist.

    • Becky Wilson
      Becky Wilson /

      Thanks Allan!!! It’s been a minute since we were in massage school together. Hope you are doing well.

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