Psoas muscle and lumbar spine stability: a concept uniting existing controversies. Critical review and hypothesis

Eur Spine J. 2000 Dec;9(6):577-85. doi: 10.1007/s005860000184.


Psoas muscle (PM) function with regard to the lumbar spine (LS) is disputed. Electromyographic studies attribute to the PM a possible role as stabilizer. Anatomical textbooks describe the PM as an LS flexor, but not a stabilizer. According to more recent anatomical studies, the PM does not act on the LS, because it tends to pull the LS into more lordosis by simultaneously flexing the lower and extending the upper region, but due to the short moment arms of its fascicles, this would require maximal muscular effort and would expose the LS motion segments to dangerous compression and shear. The findings of the present study indicate that the described opposite action of the PM on upper and lower LS regions, performed passively and requiring minimal muscular effort, may serve to stabilize the LS in an upright stance. It was demonstrated that a vertically placed elastic metal strip, modelled into a lordotic configuration to imitate the LS, will be brought into more lordosis, with maintenance of vertical position, if a string fastened at its upper end is pulled downward in a very specific direction. Conversely, any increase of lordosis of the strip brought about by vertical downward pushing of its top, will be stabilized by tightening the pulling string in the same specific direction. As this direction corresponded with the psoas orientation, the experiments show that the PM probably functions as a stabilizer of the lordotic LS in an upright stance by adapting the state of contraction of each of its fascicles to the momentary degree of lordosis imposed by factors outside the LS, such as general posture, general muscle activity and weight bearing. The presence of multiple PM fascicles, all of about equal length, and attaching to all LS levels, facilitates this function.

MeSH terms

  • Biomechanical Phenomena
  • Humans
  • Lumbar Vertebrae / anatomy & histology*
  • Lumbar Vertebrae / physiology*
  • Models, Biological*
  • Posture / physiology*
  • Psoas Muscles / anatomy & histology*
  • Psoas Muscles / physiology*
  • Range of Motion, Articular / physiology