The Psoas, the Lumbar Spine and Lower Back Pain

the psoas the lumbar spine and lower back painThe psoas major muscle attaches along the lumbar spine and lower back pain often involves this all-important muscle that too few people have heard of. The five bones that make up the lumbar spine sit between the pelvis and the rib cage, bearing and transferring from the upper to lower body.

The psoas flexes and laterally rotates the leg at the hip and it flexes the spine. From a standing position the psoas lifts the leg bending the knee towards the chest. Lying on the floor the psoas helps to lift the trunk towards a sit up.

The curve of the lumbar spine, without which we couldn’t stand or walk upright, is created by the psoas major when we come up to stand from a kneeling and crawling position. When the psoas shortens or engages it pulls the lumbar vertebrae forward and down. This engagement is what created our curved lower spine as the pelvis is pulled upright with the spine stacked vertically.

the psoas the lumbar spine and lower back pain The lower back in a quadrupedal animal lacks a curve because the psoas doesn’t cross the pelvis to affect the lumbar spine.

When it comes to the lumbar spine and lower back pain it is hard, if not impossible, for the psoas muscle to avoid complicity in the problem at hand. The same goes for many of the muscles in the vicinity of the psoas.

The quadratus lumborum, for example, is the next door neighbor of the psoas, connecting the pelvis to the ribcage and acting to bring stabilize these structures. The quadratus, or QL, attaches to similar points along the lumbar spine as the psoas and they are almost always part of the lower back pain puzzle.

The psoas can affect the lumbar spine in many ways as it connects to four of the lumbar vertebrae in two different places (both the body and the base of the transverse processes).

psoas lumbar spine and lower back pain        psoas lumbar spine and lower back pain        psoas lumbar spine and lower back pain

If the engaged psoas pulls the lumbar vertebrae forward, chronically tight psoas muscles will pull and keep the lumbar vertebrae forward into a hyper lordotic, or overly arched, state. If the psoas is tight on only one side it will pull the vertebrae forward on that side only and in turn will usually twist and torque the pelvis along with the lumbars. As one side tightens, the other side often fades into obscurity losing tone and strength.

Both of these inappropriate alignments of the psoas can, and often do, lead to lower back pain. These are basic misalignments that involve all of the connections of the psoas along the lumbar spine. But it is also possible for the psoas to have problems within the individual connections along the spine.

If the psoas attaches on the first through fourth lumbar vertebrae it is possible for two of those attachments to be happily aligned and two to be off kilter.

With all of these possibilities for dysfunction there are many ways to connect the psoas, the lumbar spine and lower back pain. Two tight psoas can compress the lumbar vertebrae create pain in the center of the spine. One tight psoas can compress the spine laterally creating lower back pain that would present slightly different symptoms.

One tight psoas can also pull a leg up into the hip socket limiting range of motion and creating discomfort. That same tight psoas can push forward into the inguinal ligament creating yet another kind of pain that often presents as a wrapping feeling from the front of the pelvis towards the back.

The psoas, the lumbar spine and lower back pain are usually synonymous in my book. And even if the psoas isn’t directly involved with the pain, getting the psoas aligned and working more functionally is almost always part of the healing puzzle.

Sunday Morning Music: Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds

My two favorite bands of the last decade are Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds and The Wave Pictures. They are a generation apart but share a prolific nature that has produced a ton of great noise in the last ten years. And while The Wave Pictures formed less that ten years ago, Nick Cave’s first album with The Birthday Party dates back to 1973.

I am going to see Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds tonight at the Hammerstein Ballroom and I couldn’t be more psyched.

Weekend Mashup: July 26

Welcome to the Weekend Mashup, a collection of articles from the past week that didn’t get a post of their own:

Let’s start with nice:

weekend mashup

Here’s a new take on the Milgram experiments. Psychologists Have Uncovered a Troubling Feature of People Who Seem Nice All the Time


weekend mashup

A story about yoga, Death and Dying.


dog life

Here’s another look at death and dying.A Dog’s Life. We are watching our wonderful dog Ollie get old and it is bittersweet.



On a lighter note, here is a link to a kickstarter campaign aimed at helping pregnant women with their sleep. It  looks like a great product.



And let’s finish with some emotional pain. The Effects of Negative Emotions on our Health.

An American Ninja: Kacy Catanzaro

It’s possible that I am the worst parent in the world as the last two weeks has seen a marathon of Jackie Chan movies parading before my children’s eyes. At six and eight my kids might to be too young but these are the choices we make endlessly in an attempt to create happy healthy children.

We also watched the video above of Kacy Catanzaro on American Ninja. To say it blew me away is an understatement.

“She’s my hero. She’s awesome!” My daughter Ida screamed.

“She’s my hero too.” My son purred in an odd tone.

I am endlessly in awe of the physical body. For whatever reason I don’t feel compelled to work out in such a way but I am blown away by those who do. It is beyond inspiring.

I have never lifted a weight in my life and I haven’t worked out really hard in a long time. Of late I have been thinking of combining the two and finding a personal trainer. I have written before about my lack of lats (latissimus dorsi) and watching Kacy Catanzaro do what she does might be thing to get me going. But maybe not.

I’m not sure what part of the course that Kacy Catanzaro nailed impressed me the most as it was all pretty jaw dropping.

At 5’ 10” and 100 lbs. she is the first woman to complete this type of event and she makes it look easy. After watching the Kacy Catanzaro video repeatedly we went deeper into the American Ninja catalogue on YouTube. Kacy’s performance becomes all the more impressive when you see others attempting the same things with much more stress.

She performs feats of upper body strength that are simply incredible and my daughter has been climbing poles ever since she saw the video. As well as battling her brother with a sword and shield (they are at camp Half Blood for the week, learning the ways of battle and mythology).

Super impressive and super inspiring. Kacy Catanzaro has made our week much more fun.

Take The Inner Thighs Back

take the inner thighs backAfter ten years of refining my walking patterns I have two main swing thoughts, if you will. The first is to take the inner thighs back; the second to lengthen the spine up towards the sky from the back of the neck. If I am into adding a muscular component I might think of toning the pelvic floor, oh so gently, to afford access to the spinal extension.

Everything good happens when you take the inner thighs back, especially when it come to the psoas muscle, which attaches on the back half of the femur, or thigh bone. When the inner thighs go back the psoas aligns properly and gets truly involved in the walking pattern.

Teaching people to stand I am simply trying to get people to shift the legs backwards and allow the upper body to move forwards.

When the inner thighs move backwards to initiate your walk, getting the upper body on top of, if not forward of, the legs becomes much easier. Hopefully the upper body moves to a better place naturally due to the activation of the inner thighs.

The same thing goes for the feet. Most people walk with their feet turned out too wide and wear their shoes out to the outside of the sole, and it is almost a guarantee that their feet need to land more closely towards parallel. Taking the inner thighs back to initiate your forward motion will allow the feet land in a more effective way without any conscious working of the feet.

Walking, like almost everything, is improved through refined technique. For whatever its worth most people don’t think about technique much when it comes to walking. Hopefully I am here to change that.

Simply put, there is a way to walk that is likely better than the way you are walking now.

There are a lot of reasons to change the way you walk but most of our customers are either health care practitioners, of one sort or another, or people in pain. We have had some amazing success when it comes to helping people out of pain by changing the way they walk and developing muscles to accommodate those changes.

If you suffer from almost any kind of body pain, especially mystery pain that no one seems to be able to figure out, check out the CoreWalking program. Changing your walk can truly change your life. And there is always the money back guarantee. What do you have to lose?

We are offering a 25% discount through the end of the month if you enter the code: CW25

Six Ways To Improve The Quality Of Your Sleep

improve the quality of your sleepSleep disorders account for a great deal of trouble that people experience physically and emotionally. Our quality of sleep is all too often taken for granted.. At different times in life we need more or less sleep but a lack of sleep, or lack of sound sleep, can have a profoundly negative effect on our immune system and quality of life. Sleep deprivation can be connected to impaired cognitive function, depression, diabetes and obesity as well as muscle and bone issues.

Here are six tips to improve the quality of your sleep, and in some cases for those around you, which can be a boon to your own slumber—snoring partner, anyone?

1              Exercise.

The body needs to move. It doesn’t matter what exercise you choose—yoga, walking, running, crossfit—doing something phsycial every day is essential to getting a good nights rest. If you sweat and tire your body out daily, you will sleep more soundly at night.

2              What position do you sleep in?

Few people think that sleeping can cause damage. But, do you wake up with a bad back, aching hip, or numb extremities? It might well be that the position you sleep in is hurting your body.

Sleeping on your back is an excellent option. But if you are someone with very open hips, and your legs too easily turn out, there could be a downside to this position.

Sleeping on your stomach is not good for anyone and should be avoided at all costs. Sleeping on your stomach compresses your lumbar spine and is a recipe for disaster.

From my perspective, the best sleep position is on your side with a pillow between the legs. The knees should be at the exact same level, slightly bent, below the pelvis. Allowing one knee to slide up higher than the other will torque your pelvis into bad alignment.

3              Wear an eye mask.

Light interferes with sleep. Melatonin, the chemical of sleeping, is not produced during daylight hours. Any light inhibits the production of melatonin which controls your sleep cycles.

Since light affects how much melatonin your body produces the shorter days of the winter months are likely to produce less melatonin in the body. Some researchers see a correlation between this and seasonal affective disorder which plagues so many people. Melatonin levels also lower with age which might explain why people sleep less as they age.

Using an eye mask can ensure total darkness that will encourage the brain and body to rest fully and completely

4              Go to sleep early.

As a yoga teacher I have studied some Ayurveda the Indian health science. In the Ayurvedic system, due to daily cycles of energy in the body, it is recommended that we go to sleep before 11pm and wake up before 7am.

While there are problems with sleeping too little there can also be problems with sleeping too much. Every body and mind is different so it is important to listen to your own clock to see what works best for you but the age old time frame of eight hours a night does work best for a wide swath of the population. Personally I have not slept more than seven hours in a night in the last thirty years. I am up around seven am, no matter what time I go to sleep.

According to Ayurveda after 11pm the body begins to more into a more stimulated cycle to it is best to wind down before then lest you stay awake for two long. I try my darndest to be in bed by eleven pm to give myself the best chance to get to sleep before midnight.

5              Shut off your electronics.

Here we revisit the important sleep inducing melatonin, the production of which is inhibited by the brightness of computer, tablet and television screens. The bright light of any of these surfaces signal daylight to the brain and effectively shut off our sleep switch.

Serotonin, like melatonin is a neurotransmitter responsible for regulating the mood and health of the body and mind. Positive serotonin levels contribute to feelings of well-being and wakefulness, whereas melatonin regulates our sleep cycles. Irregularities in serotonin and melatonin production can wreak havoc on the body.

Many electronic gadgets like computers and ipads emit a blue light (ereaders don’t necessarily emit this same light) that suggests the same colors as daylight and can inhibit melatonin production. The kicker is that electronic gadgets in the evening also seem to inhibit seratonin production during the day for the double whammy of poor sleep and sluggish consciousness.

Our sleep patterns are regulated by circadian rhythms, a 24 hour cycle that responds primarily to light and darkness and is important in determining the sleeping and feeding patterns of all animals, including us humans. Circadian rhythms are produced naturally within the body, but they are affected by the light and dark which send signals to our brain to help regulate the cycles of sleeping and wakefulness.

6              Tape your mouth shut at night

Not everyone is ready for this one which is why I saved it for last. Taping the mouth shut at night increases oxygen delivery to the brain which has a great deal of benefit and it can have positive effects on disorders such as asthma, sleep apnea, and to end where I began… snoring. If you have a partner who snorts through the night, tape his or her mouth shut and get better sleep yourself.


Improve the quality of your sleep and the payoff lasts the rest of your life.

Sunday Morning Music: Neil Young

I set out to put up a video from the new box set of Crosy, Stills, Nash and Young, CSNY 1974. It’s pretty great stuff though it is not called the Doomed Tour for nothing.

They rock though listening to Graham Nash’s usually beautiful voice is painful. His voice is not really meant for that stage.

There is a lot of stuff from Neil Young’s solo career, including a sick version of Revolution Blues that I couldn’t find on YouTube. So I abandoned CSNY and here is the studio version of one wild and crazy song.

Valparaiso, Chile. Start with the feet.

Bones first: both feet on the ground. 18 de julio, 2014.

Blog:  DayBooks


In Chile: Valparaiso, the trip we thought we might not get to take because of the stupid heart anomoly that showed up this winter.  But determination has won out and we are here — way up here: on one of the hills (Cerro Bellavista) looking down (way down) at the harbor.


The hills are beautiful and crazy in their cohesive chaos.  The ascents and descents are almost straight up and down.  So you start with your feet — really, with the bone. Lose track and there’s definitely a sense you might find yourself tumbling down to the harbor.  And balance has never been one of my strengths.  I can waver on the straightaways.  I have a clear sense that if I lose touch with my feet right now it’ll be all over.


Concentration is not a bad thing.  And it’s  not a bad thing to feel yourself frequently reconfiguring your skeleton as gravity loses connection with visual reference points.


I always have a hard time doing handstands outside.  Something moving outdoors makes me feel groundless when I try to go upside down.  However, in all this perspective-lines-gone-crazy I went out on the deck, overlooking the harbor, and kicked up.  It took a few days but I made it.  Wowie zowie!  King of the mountain.  It’s all in the feet (and the core — they are absolutely linked): whether the feet are supporting you or are pathfinders.


Do you know where your feet are?  It’s better if you do.  So many bones, so many possibilities.  But though only one way is up, there are many ways to get there,  Whether your center is your brain or your skeleton, or some combination or manifestation of both — keep track of it.  Don’t go all amoeba in that dark world out there.  Just kick up, with purpose and committment.

Maybe I Am Wrong About This Posture Stuff?

superhero posture gone bad    bad superhero posture

I am trying to fight the good fight against bad posture around the globe but what am I supposed to do when all of the world’s superheroes conspire against me.

There I was, on a mild summer’s day, minding my own business in the Union Square Barnes and Noble.

My children were in search of Encyclopedia Brown and Harry Potter, and I was contemplating what to cook for dinner, when I ran into an acquaintance with back pain. Innocently enough I began talking to him about posture when out of the corner of my eye I saw the do-gooders assembled in a line.

I turned slowly to confront them. They stared me down. I glared back.

“You are all leaning backwards!” I yelled

They mocked me with their silent stares.

bad superhero posture   bad superhero posture

“Look at your hyperextension.” I implored.

They refused to budge. Oh those compressed lumbars!

“Don’t you know what you are doing to yourselves and all the young people that look up to you?”

I showed them my best posture and dared them to try and take me down. I thought I heard the Batman laugh but maybe I was mistaken. I contemplated my next move.

What is a posture teacher to do when most cultural norms reinforce negative patterns that fail to serve us?

Oh the humanity!

What is Frozen Shoulder?

frozen shoulder

Frozen shoulder is also known by the technical name adhesive capsulitis.  This means what it says—in times of trouble a capsule that surrounds the shoulder joint will bind all of its parts together limiting the range of motion.

Within the shoulder capsule, there are a number of bursa in between bones to encourage mobility. The tendon of the long head of the biceps brachii muscle also travels inside the capsule which is why pain in the biceps tendon is almost always present in cases of frozen shoulder.

The shoulder is a ball-and-socket joint made up of three bones: the arm bone (humerus) and the shoulder blade (scapula) and collarbone (clavicle), which make up the shoulder girdle. I have written before how the shoulder joint is unique in that it has muscle tendons working as ligaments. The ligaments of the shoulder joint are lax by design to allow for greater range of motion.

As opposed to the hip socket that is an actual cup, or socket, for the ball to fit in, the ball at the top of the arm bone fits into a much less finished or more shallow socket formed by bones of the shoulder girdle— the acromion and coracoid processes and the glenoid cavity (fossa) of the scapula which is a depression on the head of the scapula, between the acromion and coracoid processes. The ball at of the humerus sits into the glenoid cavity.

The shoulder capsule surrounds the shoulder joint and rotator cuff tendons and when someone moves into the frozen shoulder stage of an injury the capsule thickens and becomes tight. Literal adhesions develop. This is going to affect the bursas within the joint as well as the bicep tendon that is also inside the capsule.

Frozen shoulder causes pain and stiffness in the shoulder. Over time, the shoulder becomes very hard to move. The tissues around the joint literally harden, scar tissue forms, and shoulder movements become limited and painful.

While anyone can get frozen shoulder most incidences occur with women. And oddly, it is thought that it will simple go away in many cases, though it can take up to a year to work through its stages (which I will cover next). In my wife’s case, it took some rather intense physical therapy to solve the problem but who is to say that it wouldn’t have eventually cleared of its own accord?