Anxiety is the most common mental illness in North America, affecting the majority of people at one point in their lives.
Perhaps surprisingly, anxiety and an unyielding sense of “tightening” or discomfort in your hips are related.
Here’s how psoas muscle and anxiety are related.
What is psoas (so-az) muscle?
The muscle that connects the spine and the legs, psoas muscle can be easily felt in the middle of both the front and back of your hip.
This muscle is often referred to as the ‘converging’ muscle or pulls things together – hence it is closely connected to the central nervous system. It gets its name from being shaped like a Greek letter (ps) and is also known as “the wonder muscle” or “muscle of the loins”.
Like other muscles, it plays a role in giving form to the body. When you are relaxed and at ease, your muscles are relaxed as well.
Imagine a sash that is tightly wound around your waist. You could wear this sash all day, but it would probably not be very comfortable; it would restrict your breathing and the movement of your limbs.
However, if this sash were loose and relaxed, you could breathe easily, move your arms freely and walk normally.
We use the right psoas muscle to flex our knees (think of sitting at your desk or standing in line at the bank), while we use the left psoas muscle to extend our knees (think of walking down a steep hill).
Where does anxiety come into play?
Anxiety is an emotion in which you feel a sense of fear or worry about something. Feelings of anxiety can last for a few seconds, or feel like an eternity.
Panic attacks are a type of anxiety and are when you feel your heart racing, having shortness of breath and an urge to flee.
These feelings are accompanied by a fear of losing control.
According to the American Psychiatric Association – “anxiety may be expressed as fear (e.g., fear experiences, phobic reactions), worry (e.g., worry attacks), apprehension (e.g. irritability, restlessness), and autonomic symptoms (e.g., palpitations, sweating, dizziness, lightheadedness).”
Now when we feel anxious, our bodies feel stressed, and if we continually feel anxious, we can actually become physically uncomfortable.
Psoas muscle and anxiety: 5 ways they are related
Interestingly, your psoas muscle also changes in response to stress and anxiety. This change in the psoas muscle is only one way that anxiety can affect your hips.
Here are some other ways that anxiety can affect your hips:
1) The psoas muscle tightens with anxiety and stress
When we are in a state of anxiety, the muscles in our body tend to tighten up, which can cause pain and discomfort.
In particular, the psoas muscle tightens when we feel anxious. When this happens, you may feel a tightening in your lower back or your hips.
This tightness can cause hip flexor and hip extensor muscles to shorten and tighten, increasing tension in the pelvis, causing pain to radiate into the sacroiliac joint (SI joint), and into the leg itself.
Notice how we want to curve like a ball, pulling our legs towards our chest whenever we’re stressed.
The psoas muscle lays right on top of the kidneys and adrenal glands, so it is connected to your emotional state and stress levels.
When you are in a state of extreme anxiety, or have constantly been anxious throughout your life, then the psoas muscle may seem to be painful and tight.
Tight muscles are common in people with an anxiety disorder, making it hard to hold your posture straight. You may experience hip pain in conjunction with knee and ankle pain if it is tight and restricted.
2) The “Fight or Flight” response
When we have a sense of fear or worry, the nervous system is activated and the fight-or-flight response is triggered.
This response has a direct effect on your muscles. For example, if you are walking down the street and suddenly hear a cat screech, you may jump in surprise.
But even if you’re not startled by anything in particular, your fight-or-flight response can still be activated because of anxiety alone. Even though you may feel safe and secure, your body’s unconscious mind is still preparing itself for possible threats in the environment – so it prepares to readjust the body so that these threats can be avoided.
These kinds of responses are how our bodies protect us, and they are activated by physical activity as well.
When you’re anxious, your parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) is activated. The PNS is responsible for our “rest and digest” functions that occur when we are in a state of relaxation and peace. This is when digestion, growth and repair take place.
The fight-or-flight response is when the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) takes over. The SNS causes muscles to tighten up so they can be used to flee or fight a threat. This state of active arousal is due to the presence of stress and fear.
3) You may experience poor breathing
The diaphragm is a muscle that lies just below the ribcage and many people do not realize that it is part of the psoas muscle.
The diaphragm stays contracted when we feel anxiety and stress, causing it to tighten up, leading to restricted breathing. This lack of oxygen can cause a tightness in your hips as well as pain in your spine, neck and lower back.
People with an anxiety disorder may experience symptoms like shallow breathing or rapid or shallow breathing patterns.
It’s a common misconception that people who suffer from anxiety have a low respiratory rate.
Research shows that when we are anxious, we tend to breathe deeply, but in an unstable and quick pattern. Breathing in a rhythmic pattern is just as important as breathing in a way that is deep and steady.
4) There is a significant reduction in blood flow to your hips
People who are anxious or stressed typically experience a constriction of the blood vessels, which reduces the amount of blood flowing to muscles and nerves.
This reduction in blood flow can reduce muscle function and lead to pain. People who suffer from anxiety experience tightness in their hips that radiates down into their legs. This pain is worsened if you sit for too long, as your sedentary lifestyle can cause your muscles to feel stiff and tight.
Blood flow to the psoas muscle can also be reduced, causing your hips and legs to feel as if they are heavy and achy, as well as weak.
5) Your posture suffers from anxiety
Those who suffer from anxiety may have a hunched back. This means that the muscles of your neck, shoulders and upper back may be tensing too much because you are constantly worried about something in your life.
Psoas muscle tightness can cause poor posture and lead to reduced mobility in your lumbar spine, hip joints and knees. If you are struggling with any of the above symptoms, it’s important to see your doctor for a physical examination that can help identify the source of your discomfort.
You may be experiencing pain due to hip flexor and psoas muscle tightness, so you need to treat the source of your pain rather than mask it with medications.
Hip flexor muscle tightness is a common problem that has been found in most people who suffer from anxiety.
Living with poor posture isn’t just uncomfortable – it can actually have a serious negative impact on your health. The psoas muscle is also responsible for moving your legs in a straight line and maintaining appropriate postural alignment of the hips, torso, shoulders and head.
Aside from the psoas, your hip flexor muscles may also be tight due to anxiety and stress.
This includes the hip flexors, iliopsoas, tensor fasciae latae, sartorius, rectus femoris and adductors. Training these muscles can help relieve any pain you feel in your hips.
Home remedies for anxiety
Anxiety may be triggered by a wide range of events in a person’s life, including transitions, life stressors and environmental changes.
Home remedies for anxiety, both in the form of dietary supplements and herbs, provide support for all anxiety disorders.
But here are the most effective:
1) Do regular exercises
We’ve all heard that exercise is good for you and it isn’t just a myth!
Exercise helps to reduce your levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which is released when you experience stress.
Exercise also increases the number of endorphins in your body, which are neurotransmitters that help to give you a feeling of pleasure and well-being.
It’s important to carry out an exercise routine that’s suitable for your state of health and can help with anxiety symptoms.
2) Get a massage
Massage is used to reduce anxiety and stress by stimulating the body. Not only it increases blood flow and eases muscle tension, but it also helps to boost the immune system and increase levels of endorphins.
Massage works by encouraging the body to release certain substances that are responsible for reducing pain. By using a deep muscle rub, you’ll stimulate the release of these substances to decrease any pain that you may feel.
A good massage therapist can help with anxiety by reducing muscle tension and eases pain by promoting relaxation throughout the body.
3) Essential oils
Essential oils are natural oils from plants or fruits that have a variety of medicinal properties.
They can be used for both inhaling and also for topical application on the skin or in the bath water. Essential oils are also commonly used with aromatherapy to relieve stress, reduce anxiety and improve sleep.
These oils can be applied topically directly onto the skin or blended together to create a breath spray. The physiological effects of the aroma of essential oils can be used to make you feel more relaxed or energized.
You’ll find a wide selection of therapeutic-grade essential oils that are suitable for anxiety relief available here.
Meditation is an important method of relieving stress and anxiety, especially in today’s world of non-stop stimulation. When you practice meditation regularly, you’ll find that you have more energy and that your overall mental health improves.
In addition to this, meditation is a great way to help reduce pain. There are a wide range of meditation techniques that you can use throughout the day to help you feel more relaxed and calm.
It helps to meditate even for just a few minutes a day to help improve how you cope with stress and anxiety.
Yoga is a system of exercises and breathing techniques that help to promote relaxation, mental calmness and physical strength and flexibility.
In doing yoga, you’ll find your mind becomes quieter, your breathing slows down and you become more focused on the present moment. All of this helps to reduce stress and relax the body.
Notice how when you are stressed or anxious, you tend to move around your body more and actually tense up, which then causes pain in your hips.
When you practice yoga, you’ll find that it helps you to become more in tune with your body and your mind, which allows you to truly relax.
6) Supplements for anxiety relief
Humans have used a variety of natural supplements for anxiety relief since the beginning of time, including the use of Valerian and Kava.
These can be taken in supplement form to help calm your nerves and promote relaxation, as well as decrease any unwanted symptoms associated with anxiety.
Although, make sure that you consult your doctor before taking any supplement, as they can have side effects.
7) Foods to eat for anxiety relief
There are countless foods that you can eat to help reduce symptoms of anxiety and stress.
They include those rich in Omega 3 fatty acids such as DHA and EPA, and the B vitamins such as thiamine and riboflavin.
One of the best foods to eat for anxiety is salmon; this contains higher levels of omega-3 than any other fish.
A wide range of other foods also have powerful anti-anxiety properties, including blackberries and blueberries, which are high in flavonoids; proteins such as eggs, chicken and turkey; fruits like apples and oranges; vegetables like broccoli and cauliflower; herbs such as St. John’s wort and chamomile tea.
Your diet also plays a significant role in helping to reduce stress and anxiety.
To wrap it up
Your psoas muscle is the most important muscle for your hip flexors.
Its primary function is to provide support for your spine, and it is important for this reason that you take care of it.
Stress and anxiety can be severely debilitating, especially when it interferes with your daily routine.
But there are plenty of home remedies to help reduce your anxiety symptoms.
There are methods that will help soothe the muscles in your hips and allow you to be less stressed out when dealing with pain.