About a month ago, I started having some discomfort around my low back, hip, and thigh on my left. It came to a head on a Saturday run with Jill, when I decided to walk off the last mile. Which I only walked because I was a mile from my car. And crawling would have taken too long. The discomfort turned into some pain over that weekend. Since I have been in that boat before where a body part is hurting me, yet I keep going anyway, only to later be officially sidelined by my orthopedic doctor, I prescribed a week of rest for myself. We runners really hate to admit it, but rest actually resolves most issues.
The Monday after that week of rest, I got up to head to spinning class. Just walking down the stairs, I knew I still wasn’t right, so I skipped it. Tuesday, same thing. By Wednesday morning, I knew one week of rest had turned into two. By the end of that week, it was clear that two would turn into three.
All the while, I was working with my chiropractor to help try to address the area. The back pain had gone away early, but the discomfort had been “walking around” among my hip, thigh, and groin, kind of back and forth. Some days, I’d be feeling great, then I’d suddenly double over at the waist due to thigh or groin pain, merely from taking too long a stride while walking. As we kept talking and working on it, Dr. Tim suggested that the root cause could be a tight psoas (“so-as”) muscle.Armed with this new information, I found a bunch of articles and videos about the psoas, from a variety of sources – yogis, chiropractors, physical & massage therapists, fitness trainers. [Last link is a video that include some swearing.] It’s impossible to say for certain, but my internet researching convinced me that my psoas could very likely be at the heart of my problems. With nothing to lose, I opted to incorporate some suggestions from those resources.
Allow me to back up a smidgen and share the gist of what I learned. The psoas (so-as) major is one of two parts of the iliopsoas, and it’s a large muscle group that crosses through your body, front-to-back, from the lumbar spine to the thigh bone. It’s the only major muscle that is connected to both the upper and lower parts of your body. The psoas lifts the thigh as you walk, stabilizes the spine, and affects posture. Many of our modern habits, such as sitting at desks all day, tend to shorten the psoas and our other flexor muscles. One of our natural reactions to stress is to contract our bodies at the waist (think of curling up in the fetal position), which also results in shortening of the muscles, particularly when it becomes a chronic habit.
Here’s where it gets extra interesting. The psoas believed by some to be the “muscle of the soul.” That is, it appears to have connections to a variety of internal, physical (e.g. gut organ functioning) and emotional states (e.g., anxiety). At first, I thought this sounded slightly too new-agey for me. Nonetheless, allowing it soak in for a while revealed the wisdom of it to me. Our minds and bodies are obviously intricately connected in ways we don’t fully understand, and this tissue runs from the spine (think: physical, nervous system messages and sensation) through the torso (think: gut instinct). Merely being in the vicinity of these two sensory systems would allow the psoas to impact each of them. Also, we all know of other ways that our brains and bodies can sometimes work – or not work – together to interpret or even mix up signals. Like when you’re sitting in your parked car, the car next to you begins to drift, but you feel like you’re moving. Or how we often feel physically ill when we are upset. Finally, I’d read in a psychology text (one that covered the biopsychology) ages ago that often your physical sensations can modify or override your feelings. As an example, one of the authors described a time when he was on-deck to give a talk that he’d delivered hundreds of times, and he couldn’t figure out why he was so nerous. When he took the stage, he noticed everyone in the audience shivering. It turned out that the air conditioning was too low, and he’d interpreted his physical shakiness to nerves rather than the cold – the shaking made him feel nervous, rather the the usual vice versa!
I’d set out to find physical solutions to help my body heal, but this additional information was telling to me. Is it a coincidence that I’ve been working through some tougher-than-usual emotional and mental issues? And if it’s possible that these mental and physical states are indeed connected, which is cause and which effect?! I believe the two things are definitely interrelated, but the jury is out of the second question.
Let’s wrap up with how I am doing now. Stretching daily has helped me to feel tremendous physical improvement. There’s still some discomfort – usually the day after I didn’t stretch a couple times throughout the day – but no more of the grasping, sharp pains I’d been getting when walking. Solid progress has been made! Further, I managed my first workout last Thursday (after nearly a month!) without having any problems. And I woke up sore on Friday, which made me so happy to be feeling the “good” pain again! (This week, however, I seem to be having issues with turning my alarm app on, after I open it on my phone at bedtime. Subconscious?)
On top of the physical, I have been working to dial down my emotional responses to events. I’m actively trying to remain calm when something “goes wrong” or upsets me. And when I’m doing my stretching, I attempt to focus on using the time to actually relax into it, rather than simply going through it as one more thing to mark off my to-do list for the day. Finally, I’m taking little breaks from my “busy-ness” to do things that I enjoy. For one, I am taking opportunities to deliberately connect with my family. That’s pleasant in and of itself, but also nearly always results in a good bit of laughter. Finally – and also on the ‘laughter is the best medicine’ front – I find a few moments for reading blogs I know will make me laugh and connecting with funny people online over shared experiences (e.g., searching ADHD hashtags like #adhdproblems and #adhdwomen).
Now that I am starting to feel back to “normal” (stop laughing), I just need to work on my alarm-setting skills so that I can begin to dive back into exercise. That’s going to further help all of my current issues, as exercise is a key component of my self-care and stress management. (So much chicken-and-eggness going on here!)
Aaaand, as I was typing that last sentence, I got some mildly stressful information. So if you need me, you’ll find me stretching and breathing (and perhaps striking a super hero pose) in my living room.