The Hip Flexors

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This article was edited and updated on March 10, 2018.

Psoas Major and Iliacus: Iliopsoas

When you think of the hard work the hips have to do, every day, day in and day out, it’s not particularly surprising that sometimes they hurt...or even wear out!

Moving the hip involves many muscles, but the two workhorses are Iliacus and Psoas major. These two muscles combined are sometimes referred to as Iliopsoas.

For our purposes here, you can ignore the other muscles identified on the diagram at the right, and just zero in on Psoas major and Iliacus. (See Adductors for information about other muscles.)

Psoas major, begins at the 12th thoracic and 5th lumbar vertebrae. It reaches all the way down to the upper part of the femur (leg bone). That’s a long, big muscle and this muscle helps to flex both the hip and the spine.

Iliacus begins at the Iliac crest (right at the top of the Ilium which is that part of our hip we are most aware of and we usually call it the “hip bone”) and inserts at the same place as Psoas major: a special bump or protrusion called the lesser trochanter of the femur. Iliacus has the same job as psoas major: flex the hip and the spine.

Exercising the Iliopsoas

Any exercise which requires hip movement will work the Iliopsoas. For example:

Lie on your back on the mat, legs outstretched. Raise and lower one leg at a time (not too high). For both legs, put a ball between your feet while lifting the legs together. (Just an inch or two off the ground is all that is necessary.)

Squats and lunges are useful in making these muscles work, but if you have knee problems, these exercises can become problematic. You can adapt by not doing a full squat or lunge. Just dip as far as you can go without discomfort.

Sit with your knees bent on a low chair or bench, if possible. Sitting tall, raise one knee slightly higher than your hips, probably more than 90 degrees.

Stretching the Iliopsoas

The key to stretching the psoas is in the tilting of the pelvis (see image at left). Hold any position for at least 30 seconds, preferably a little longer. For example:

Lie on your side and place your legs together, knees bent. Keep your feet together as you lift your knee up (like a clamshell). Do on both sides.

Lie on your back and bring one knee up to your chest; hold in that position for a short while, and then switch to the other knee.

Lie on your back and bring one knee up to your chest. Use the same-side hand to press on the knee, moving the leg outwards towards the floor (open it as far as you can comfortably do so). Hold in position for as long as you feel comfortable. Return the knee back to the centre and then using the oppsoite hand, move the knee (still bent) across the body. Hold and then return to the centre.

See also:

For other articles about muscles, see:

I am a BCRPA-certified fitness instructor in Vancouver, BC. I teach four classes at the West End Community Centre in Vancouver, BC, mostly designed for the older adult. The Inevitable Disclaimer: Everything published here expresses only my opinion, based on my training and research. What you do with the information is entirely your own responsibility. I am not liable for any injury you suffer that seems to be related to anything you read here. Always consult your doctor before beginning an exercise program. For other articles, return to the table of contents.

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