The Quadratus Lumborum can cause some real grief through your back, buttock, hip, and groin but with the right management, exercises and self-treatment, you can be pain free – long term.
Where is quadratus lumborum pain felt?
You can see the pain referral patterns below for the deep (closer to the spine) and superficial fibers of the QL muscle. Referral from the quadratus lumborum can vary a lot between people due to this varied referral pattern, in some, it can be a literal pain in the butt and others it is the side of the back, hip or the groin.
You can easily see from the video below that is the quadratus lumborum tightens up, it can pull at your bottom ribs, vertebrae or pelvis and if this happens one side more than the other, it can lead to some real asymmetry and not just cause back pain but a whole raft of other things.
How can a tight quadratus lumborum effect you?
Apart from being painful, it can also increase the load on quite a few other structures. Often when one side tightens up it can lift that side of your pelvis a little making you feel out of place or out of alignment (even though your back can’t go out of place,1). It can also pull at your ribs, tilting you to the side, limiting your reaching and restricting your breathing. And last but not least if the QL is tight on both sides, you get more compression on your spine.
The QL can also:
- Cause a sharp stabbing pain in the low back
- Cause pain and limitation when trying to turn in bed or stand from sitting
- Make it look like you have a leg shorter than the other by holding one side of your pelvis higher
- Contribute to a lot of other issues such as patellofemoral pain, trochanteric bursitis and scoliosis due to asymmetrical tension
So how do we fix it?
In three steps:
- Ease the pain by decreasing tension by releasing the muscle (stretching often doesn’t help)
- Get you back to normal by regaining full range of motion through your back and hips
- And finally, treat the cause by improving strength of the QL so that it can handle everything you throw at it
1. Ease pain
For this, we need the muscle to relax so the most important thing is reducing aggravating activities and applying heat. Heat can be applied be a wheat bag, hot water bottle, heat rub or anything similar, it will make a big difference. Of course make sure you don’t make it too hot or hurt yourself, by following the instructions.
Also, you can directly release the quadratus lumborum, which is far more specific than stretching. Check out our past blog post to learn how to do a myofascial release for your Quadratus Lumborum with a simple massage ball or the QL Claw.
2. Regain normal range
We need to now get everything back to normal – not just the quadratus lumborum but the muscles that have changed because of the asymmetry that the QL caused. The following stretch is perfect for this, just remember to relax into it and that it isn’t, no pain-no gain.
Gluteal stretch: This will help even you out and regain hip range
Now get you quadratus lumborum stronger so that it can handle what you want to be able to do. A stronger QL means less pain and you have more control and power, without having to avoid things constantly.
To load the QL, we need to load the side of your body and the best way to do this is the side planks and the one sided farmers carry:
Side plank Level 1
Hold for up to 1 minute. Once you can do that comfortably, progress to level 2 below.
Side plank Level 2:
In the side plank, raise your top leg up and down up to 10 times. Repeat 3 times each side.
One-sided farmers carry:
Hold onto a dumbbell, kettlebell or anything with a bit of weight to it in one hand and do some laps (e.g. 10 x 10m laps on each side).
Carrying a weight on one side makes the QL and obliques on the opposite side work hard to keep you upright.
Note: Don’t do two-sided carry like in the picture! Carrying in on the right for example makes the left torso work hard to stop your upper body tilting over and vice versa but also do one side and then the other. This can work great to strengthen not only your quadratus lumborum but also your lateral hip and obliques.
Tip: try to stay upright!
And that’s it.
Work at that most days and notice the results. For a more detailed rehab plan, download our Complete Low Back Self-Rehab Guide to get great results.
On a side note, once you are feeling improved, don’t slack off on the exercises, they are great to do just to maintain yourself in great condition, even if it is just three times per week.