A few months after opening our first Chiropractic practice on returning to Australia in 1979 we received a phone call from a very distressed patient. This was a behaviour that was totally foreign for this man who was normally a very fun loving person. He told me that his son was being sent home from boarding school in Sydney in the Air Ambulance as he had massively acute constant lower back pain that had him virtually locked in the foetal position 24 hours a day.

The 16-year-old had been taken to hospital, been seen by numerous top medical specialists, his xrays were clear, he had been poked and prodded everywhere, and the cause of his back pain was totally unknown. He was being sent home to the country and prescribed bed rest until the excruciating pain of unknown origin went away.

His father said the plane was landing in half an hour and he wanted to bring his son to our practice in the ambulance for me to check him out and “fix him”!!


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I was in my second year of practice and I was very green, however, massively enthusiastic, and if you had a spine and you were alive and breathing, I’d accept you as a patient. His father had experienced a few months earlier what he called a ‘miracle cure’ after a few visits to our practice.

The super fit young man had been rowing extremely hard for many weeks and his crew were the odds-on favourites to win the Greater Public Schools ‘Head of the River’ in Sydney in 10 days’ time.

Fortunately, my year of private practice in Canada before returning to Australia saw me working with a lot of athletes. I had had a similar case in Toronto who responded extremely quickly to care.

I said a few prayers before the ambulance arrived. I had the ambulance men hold the young man in position so I could take more xrays with the lad standing as best he possibly could. We then moved him to an adjusting table as he was moaning and groaning in agonising pain.

The patients xrays were all clear. My examination revealed what my suspicion was, the lad had the most major massive bi-lateral contraction of his right and left psoas major muscles. They had literally frozen him up in a super flexed position causing major constant nerve pressure.

The stress of over physical training of a 16-year-old, the mental and emotional stress that his crew ‘must win’ the Head of the River was just too much for him to cope with, and his body just quit.

Structurally, your psoas muscles are the deepest muscles in your core and are the primary connectors between your torso and your legs. They affect your posture and help to stabilize your spine.Your psoas muscles are vital not only to your structural well-being, but also to your psychological well-being because of their connection to the fascia that connects the psoas to your diaphragm, which in turn has a major effect on your breath.

Because the psoas is a major muscle group in the fight-flight reflex process in the body, every time you are driven emotionally too hard or something startles you (real or perceived threat), your brain sends signals to your body to respond by releasing epinephrine (adrenaline) and cortisol. When the treat has passed, these hormones usually return to normal. However, in extreme cases of over stress or distress, the hormones just keep on being released and your psoas is constantly contracted.

According to Liz Koch, author of The Psoas Book, “The psoas is so intimately involved in such basic physical and emotional reactions, that a chronically tightened psoas continually signals your body that you’re in danger, eventually exhausting the adrenal glands and depleting the immune system.”

Our fast-paced lifestyles mentally and emotionally continually challenge us, together with our relatively low level of physical activity, where constant sitting at a computer, driving and watching TV causes our bodies to be ineffective at releasing built up stress which manifests in our thoughts as fear or anxiety.

Releasing stress daily can help keep your psoas healthy. Simple things like taking a leisurely walk, doing lunges, basic yoga exercises, soaking in a bath with Epson salts, acknowledging your emotions and releasing them, are all simple techniques to use.

Now back to my young rower… the solution to his problem was quite simple. I told him that what I was going to do would probably be excruciatingly painful for 20 to 30 seconds as I had to imbed my fingers into the belly of each of his psoas muscles to trigger a reflex release. A bit like bursting a balloon or squeezing a boil.

He consented to the technique, flinched, moaned and groaned even louder briefly and 60 seconds later he was standing straight and walking around the room as a normal, healthy 16-year-old, totally pain free and walking and bending freely.

His pain had gone and his father was chanting, “another miracle, another miracle”!!

Tagged Psoas, mental stress, emotional stress

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Comments ( 2 )

  • Hi John and Judy. Great article – thank you. Very interestingly: the psoas muscles are associated with the kidney meridians and the emotions of Fear, Anxiety and Paralysed Will. In TCM, the kidneys and adrenals are also regarded as a whole system. I would be interested to know if this young fellow had been chronically dehydrated with his excessive training and preparation putting extra functional stress on the kidneys. This to me is why one of the largest contributors to Low Back Pain is dehydration – the association of the kidneys and the psoas muscles, the key supporting muscles of the lower spine, pelvis and hips.

    • admin

      Steve, thanks for the interesting details regarding organs and meridians connections.
      In 1979 dehydration was not something that was considered as being a possible cause associated with back pain. Actually, it was not considered as a cause of anything to my knowledge and not ever spoken about, other than when a player went down in injured, they called for the ‘water boy’!

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