Your Quadratus Lumborum and Back Pain: What You Need to Know

By June 29, 2018Mobility and Yoga
Reading Time: 3 minutes

The quadratus lumborum, or QL, is a key piece of your core. While technically an abdominal muscle, the QL is located deep enough that it has tremendous influence over the lumbar region in your low back.

If you are suffering from lower back pain, understanding and caring for your QL can be a major factor in finding and alleviating the source of that pain.

Your Quadratus Lumborum and Back Pain

The pair of QL muscles are located at the rear of the abdominal wall and are connected between the inside of the pelvis and the lower vertebrae. The QL comes into play in the function and stability of your spine. It assists in forward-backward and side-to-side flexion and extension as well as assisting the diaphragm during inhalation.

Your Quadratus Lumborum and Back Pain: What You Need to Know

Sitting for prolonged periods of time affects the stabilizer muscles of the vertebrae, effectively shutting them off. When these muscles no longer aide in the support of the spine and lower back, then the QL takes up the slack. Which is a job it’s not meant to do.

Over time, overuse of the QL results in fatiguing the muscles, tightness, decreased blood flow, and adhesions. This can be compounded by a rounded posture in the upper back (which often accompanies our sitting habit) that causes the QL and its surrounding muscles to work even harder in a seated and standing position.

If you are someone who has tight hips and glutes that are not being worked to their full potential, then you are most likely afflicted with an overly tight QL. When the glutes are tight from disuse, the QL will compensate by becoming the prime mover of the hip joint. This results in a gait that hikes the hip upward with each step.

Hiking the hip upward in this fashion will lead to compression of the lumbar region due to excessive side bending. The resulting tightness in the QL can be a source of pain in the lower back.

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How to Effectively Stretch Your Quadratus Lumborum

Making use of estim (electrical muscle stimulation), massage, heat, and ice don’t often have the desired effect when it comes to a long-term sustainable cure for this type of QL problem. What you have do is really dig into this area with a stretch that can break up the log jam in your QL muscle fibers.

But, the QL is notoriously difficult to get to. The usual go-to movements — such as touching the toes while maintaining straight legs, leaning back and swiveling the hips from side to side, and even the classic grousing about the tweak in your back at the water cooler — don’t seem to have any effect on releasing a tight QL.

So, today, I’m going to introduce you to a QL stretch that will most likely take you into unexplored territory. Follow along with the video of me demonstrating the world’s best QL stretch. Give it a try, then see if your back doesn’t feel noticeably better.

Anatomy graphic by OpenStax College (https://cnx.org/contents/FPtK1zmh@8.108:y9_gDy74@5) [CC BY 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons.
Jeff Baker
Jeff Baker loves what he does — that’s the simple answer to why he became a coach. He gets to show up each day to work with wonderful coaches, watching his clients grow and prosper with new strength and health. Coaching allows Jeff to combine his enthusiasm for health and fitness with his love for teaching and opening people up to new experiences and possibilities.

As part of the team at The Whole Life Challenge, his goals are to endow our clients with a love for challenges and accomplishing goals. Jeff wants them to appreciate the perseverance it takes to achieve something of meaning and the feeling of accomplishment once they’ve done so.

Athletics and strength have always been a part of Jeff’s life. He has spent almost thirty years playing soccer and, in that time, put a lot of effort into developing his speed and strength, both on and off the field. When Jeff found CrossFit, he was working down the street from a small gym that was just about to open. Discovering CrossFit and beginning his career as a coach was a turning point in Jeff’s life he never saw coming, but it has been one of the best things to ever happen to him.

Jeff continues to derive a great deal of enjoyment in helping people achieve a better quality of life through health, wellness, and the community he works in. As Ghandi said, “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.” Eight years ago, Jeff found out just how true that can be.
  • Greg Gokey

    Hi Jeff – What is your email? This video was SUPER helpful. Essentially, I have a very painful low LEFT back and can feel an inflammed portion of the muscle. Right is fine. My Chiro showed me a 10mm hip hike (right side) and recommended a 7mm orthotic on my left, which I prefer not to use bc I don’t have a natural leg left discrepancy. Agree with my approach? I do have a 2mm disc bulge at l5/s1 but I have been told that’s nothing to worry about and it’s my muscle imbalance that’s to blame. Right side is very tight although that’s not the source of my pain. Other symptoms – squeezing my glutes (prob weak) I can crack my lower back and my right leg is much tighter and inflexible vs my left. Thank you so much for any feedback. Greg

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