If I had a nickel for every time I heard “sore lower back” when asking students about injuries or limitations I would own a small island in the Caribbean! In our modern lives, most of us are in near constant hip flexion. We wake up and sit on the bed, sit down on the toilet, sit down for breakfast and sit in the car or bus or subway to end up at work, sitting at our desks before returning home to sit down for dinner and then on the couch for our favorite show. There are many implications to this pattern, but a common result is tight hamstrings and hip flexors or Psoas muscles, and an over stretching of the antagonizing low back muscle, Quadratus Lumborum (QL). The QL is vital to maintaining a healthy back and spine and even contributes to healthy respiration.
Quadratus Lumborum literally means “rectangular muscle of the loins”, and it bridges the ribcage and pelvis. This relatively small muscle has big actions. When both QL muscles contract together they extend the spine and can fix the 12th rib in forced exhalation. When only one side is contracting it acts to laterally flex the spine, or if the upper body is stabilized it will elevate or “hike up” one hip.
In our daily long held seated postures the QL becomes exhausted. With the opposing psoas contracting to flex the hip, the QL would normally lengthen and stretch. Instead it is constantly contracting to support the spine especially when the lower fibres of the other back extending muscles, the erector spinae, become weak. This leads to overuse and muscle fatigue and even muscle spasm from decreased blood flow. Considering topping this off by crossing the legs and further contracting the QL to bring lateral flexion to the upper leg side of the torso – Egad! This transgression brings on the one-sided low back pain.
It is important to note that quadratus lumborum pain can travel all over the low back, so it is not always clearly evident as the culprit muscle. You might feel it in in the iliac crest, at the sacrum, front of the hip, abdomen and groin or the gluteus. It is not just your average pain in the behind. It affects the entire posterior chain. It could team up with tight hamstrings or a weak upper back to more severely inhibit your pain-free movement.
We don’t always take full deep breaths throughout our day but certainly stepping onto our yoga mats or gearing up for any cardio exercise will reveal a tight QL too. It can pull on its connection to the 12th rib and overlap with the respiratory diaphragm to inhibit deep breathing. Have you ever felt stuck at the bottom of an exhale? or taken a deep inhale and felt it in your low back? You don’t want to mess with the breath! Promoting openness and pliability in the QL can clear the way for full powerful breath whether you are meditating, blowing out candles or belting it out with Rihanna!
The GOOD news is that Yoga Tune Up® can help. The first step in alleviating pain in the QL is awareness, admitting you have a problem… and getting out of your seat! However, sitting for long periods of time cannot always be avoided and does not necessarily mean you are inactive. This muscle is worked when kayaking, biking or rowing too.
To start, Yoga Tune Up® Therapy Balls can directly massage tight muscle fibers, even through the heavy fascial layers of the lower back. Get down on your back, lift your hips to slide the balls on either side of the spine between the lowest rib and hip. Now roll around to heaven! Warning: you may have to roll through a bit of yucky stuff on your way there.
To build strength and flexibility, targeted Yoga Tune Up® poses like Sidewinder, Boomerang Sidebend or Cobra at the Wall can help to strengthen and stretch the QL. This is a muscle to keep healthy so that we can keep sitting pretty… and walking, bending, running, jumping and breathing pretty too!