Why The Psoas (your primary hip flexor) Often Becomes Dysfunctional in Dancers and How To Correct It

The psoas major and Iliacus, are your primary hip flexors. Of course, there are other muscles that assist in hip flexion but none are as effective as the psoas major and Iliacus when they are working properly…keywords here, “working properly!”

The psoas major is associated with the lumbar spine as the insertion of this muscle is, in fact, the lumbar spine. This is important to understand because it affects the way this muscle acts, or acts up, at times! And can very much contribute to pain and inflammation in the front of the hips. For dancers especially.

The psoas major originates off the lumbar vertebral bodies and their transverse processes and inserts into the lesser trochanter of the femur.

medical accurate illustration of the psoas major

The iliacus, the other muscle in the hip flexor group, originates from the iliac fossa, essentially a trench in a bone, and inserts into the lesser trochanter.

medical accurate illustration of the iliacus

At times these two muscles are referred to as the iliopsoas muscle. Both work together to flex the hip, and both can assist in external hip rotation. The psoas major can even act as a segmental stabilization of the lumbar spine, due to its attachment site.

The functional significance of these two muscles is in the way they work together to flex the hip. The two muscles wrap around the brim of the pelvis and create leverage, or an anatomical pulley. The two muscles can generate their full force in a neutral position.

However. Many dancers do not condition their hip flexors in neutral due to a variety of factors. Such as:

  • Tightness in their hip flexors
  • Tightness in their hamstrings
  • Or lack of anatomical awareness and proper alignment.

These factors affect the position of their pelvis and lumbar spine, and generally moves them away from neutral. This becomes a problem because it affects the way the iliopsoas works, especially the psoas major.

Remember, the psoas major originates from the lumbar vertebral bodies and their transverse processes. Therefore, the upper fibers of this muscle can work to stabilize the spine. This is fine for most people but not for dancers.

Dancers hold their legs in positions that require a lot of work from their hip flexors, i.e. tilts, grande battements and leg extensions. If the hip flexors are working to both flex the hip and stabilize the spine they will fatigue and become less efficient.

For many dancers this results in hip discomfort or a feeling of gripping in the thigh or hip. Overtime this can really become a problem. Just ask a dancer over 14 years old if they experience hip pain. The majority will say yes!

So…what’s the solution?

1. Proper Core Conditioning

2. Proper Stretching to Restore a Neutral Pelvis and Spine

3. Retraining the Psoas with Hip Flexion Exercises in Neutral

Doing these 3 things allows the psoas major to do the ONE job it’s best at, hip flexion. And the deep stabilizers of the spine to do the ONE job they’re best at, segmental stabilization of the spine during movement.

This result, is more ease and efficiency when it comes to hip flexion. And a decrease in pain and discomfort. Which translates to much higher tilts, grande battements, leg extensions and grande jetes (to name a few) for a lot less work! And who doesn’t want that?

So the takeaway is this…if you want to use the psoas major as a hip flexor ONLY, and as a dancer you do, you can’t rely on it as a spinal stabilizer. Therefore, you need to ensure that the deep core stabilizers of the lumbar spine: the Transversus Abdominus (TA), Multifidus (MA) and Pelvic Floor Muscles (PFM) are working properly.

When the deep core stabilizers are working to properly stabilize the spine, the psoas can let go of that role and act only as a hip flexor.

Which…the psoas really likes. Your dancers will like it too because they will no longer experience gripping in their hips, that is often accompanied by pain and discomfort. Plus, their hip flexibility and mobility will increase!

Here are some signs that your deep core stabilizers are under working and your psoas major is overworking:

  • Chronic hip and low back pain and discomfort
  • Feeling locked or stuck in overextension of the lumbar spine
  • Poor posture and alignment of the spine and pelvis
  • Feeling like you need a massage all of the time

And again…you can work to correct it with:

  • Proper Core Conditioning
  • Stretching to Restore a Neutral Pelvis and Spine
  • Retraining the Psoas with Hip Flexion exercises in Neutral

Ensuring to do all of this will not only improve your tilts, grande battements and leg extensions in the safest and most effective way. It will also work to increase core strength, stability and control.

For the love of dance education!


For more information on this topic and much, much more check out our mUvStretch Online Training.