The quadratus lumborum (QL for short) is an important muscle to maintain in relationship to spinal health. Inherent in the name is its shape and location – square-like and in the lumbar (low back) region. It is a large flat muscle that attaches to the twelfth rib and L1-L4 in the lumbar spine, making its way down to attach on the posterior iliac crest (the top of the pelvis on the back side) and iliolumbar ligament. It is considered a deep trunk muscle, tucked away deep beneath the erector spinae and in close range of the viscera on the other side, where it protects and cushions the kidneys, and sits in close relationship with the psoas major and the diaphragm.
And wow, does this muscle have a lot of functions! It holds the twelfth rib steady during abdominal breathing. It elevates the hip and participates in lateral flexion of the lumbar spine along with anterior pelvic tilt and lumbar extension. It also assists in rotating the torso. The fibers of the lateral side of the QL are meant to act as a mover of the trunk and/or pelvis and the medial fibers are meant to stabilize the trunk in maintaining good posture.
QL’s everyday partner in crime is the contra lateral (opposite side) gluteus medius – these two muscles work together in a sling to balance each other out during walking. This is particularly relevant in everyday life when we are carrying something heavy (think grocery bag with two gallons of milk in it) in one hand. In this scenario the QL and its opposing gluteus medius have to be awake and in cooperation in order to maintain correct posture and gait. When both of these muscles are weak, the hips and core can’t stabilize the movement pattern and excessive stress often moves downtown and causes distress in the knee (on the glute side).
Overuse or under use of the QL is often considered to be a common source of reccurring lower back, buttock and hip pain. This muscle usually gets called in to do the job of the erector spinae if they are weak or prohibited. The modern seated lifestyle puts QL into constant contraction where it becomes short/tight and can eventually land in spasm. It can also be strained if you have a habit of sitting crossed legged with the same leg on top all of the time. In this scenario, a higher percentage of body weight lands into the bottom leg, and the top leg QL muscle works unnecessarily for as long as the position is held.
If low back pain prevention or easement is the goal, keeping the QL muscles strong and supple is good a place to start. On Friday I’ll post a video of a YTU pose that helps keep your QL in good shape!
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Thank you. This was a really informative article about the QL. A muscle that seems to have a lot of air time these days and one that I don’t know much about. I have been fortunate enough to not have any low back pain. I am confused a bit on how our culture of sitting contracts the QL. most people sit in really bad posture (flexion of the spine). If the QL attaches to the back of the 12th rib and the back of the iliac crest then wouldn’t it be lengthening in that shape? I am very new to anatomy so any insight or alternative explanations you have would be appreciated it!
Quite a helpful article for describing the QL and what it does. I was just doing the sidewinder in ytu today, which really engages the QL if done right. It was clear to me that I was much tighter on one side than the other….must stop that crossing of legs and must strengthen my obliques.
This post explains very nicely what I went through a couple of years ago. I remember the pain when my PT was trying to have my QL release (spasm in fact I think). My gluteus med was weak… I’m still working on those gluts! and changing this very bad habit of crossing the legs. Very interesting review of those muscles!
I’ve been working on unraveling the pain in my body and tight QL’s have been a big culprit. I’m short and find when I sit I’m on my toes rather than feet flat to the floor. Now I have a block under my feet and use a squatty potty too. Working on the new normal of uncrossed legs. Thanks for this great blog.
As a former leg crossing, back cracking, posterior tilting addict – my Quadratus Lumborm is tight! Fortuantly I now have some insight as to the postural (see beginning list) habits that have contributed to the neglect of this incredible muscle. The close relationship between the QL, psoas and the facial legs of the diaphragm have helped me further unravel some rib issues. Good stuff this process of discovering our body blind spots and dedicating to being the change we want to see in our students!
I recently had a massage and discovered that my right QL was very tight which I could really feel. I don’t have back pain but I do have knee pain on the right side occassionally and more so recently. This article was an Ah Ha because I had always been told that knee pain comes directly from the hips. I know the QL is atdtached to the iliac crest in the back of the pelvis but it is considered a muscle of the trunk. That knee pain can come from something other than the hips was good to learn and also that this article match my situation exactly was helpful. I’ll see if me knee pain resolves with releif in the QL.
Thats some great initial info on the QL. Its just the right intro to make me want to learn more. I have been addressing some low back tightness and had zeroed in on my psoas in the fall but now want to look at the QL a bit more closely.
Thank you Kristen! The QL is obviously such an important muscle, but it remains a bit mysterious to me. You have clearly outlined the QL’s functions and the problems related to it. I do find it to be a bit of a troublemaker in a hand full of clients. I look forward to checking out your followup article!
Man, no wonder so many people have lower back pain! QL’s responsibilities sound like mine at work. Haha! Elevates, laterally flexes, rotates, anterior pelvic tilts. SMH. Makes me want to give it some real TLC!! And… thanks for sharing that the partner in crime is the contra lateral gluteus medius. How do you even find that out? Lol. It just makes sense now that you’ve painted the picture of carrying a couple of gallons of milk in one hand, that you get out of whack. And when you roll that lower back portion, you want to roll the surrounding, adjacent muscles to it, especially because they are all connected. Awesome, I will pass that on in my teaching! =)
This really helps to explain how and why I had so much trouble breathing during my last month of pregnancy. (Diaphragm was greatly affected). My twelfth rib was obstructed during the abdominal breathing process. The lateral flexion on my lumbar spine and extension was impacted greatly.
This week we learned about the QL in our Level 1 training. I had never paid much attention to that muscle before. i have an older yoga student with pain in her glutes medious area (and IT band). i introduced the class to using the YTU balls and working on the QL, mini side benders on the floor or wall. i am so excited about working on this new muslce!
Learning sidewinder for the first time yesterday helped me to become much more aware of my QL muscles but I wasn’t as aware of the work being done in the glute med on the opposite side until reading your post. Now in trying the movement again a feel more stable as I am more aware of what muscles are firing. Thank you for helping me to awaken my gluteus medius.
Just learned about the QL at. Yoga Tune up training this weekend and this article consolidates the information. Really interesting about the partner in crime – Gluteus Medius and also about crossing legs!
My QL goes into an intense spasm after I do a supine twist and depress my hip. I actually loose all ability to lift my hips off the ground after the rotation. I have to wait a long time before I can lift. It would be interesting to see a blog that goes beyond this one ( this is a very informative blog…. I would like a 2nd, 3rd and 4th blog on this amazing muscle) so that I could possibly figure out what I need to do to help my poor little QL stop screaming at me and refusing to let me lift into bridge
Fantastically informative article. I need to read it a couple more times for it all to sink in I am sure!
Maybe another day, so I stop shortening my QL from sitting.
Having talked about the QL in my yoga tuneup training, your blog has helped clarify its functionality and how it relates to the gluteus medius. I do suffer from recurring lower back pain and have always thought I need to focus more on the admonimal muscles (transverse and rectus abdominis) to help mitigate the problem. I will now pay closer attention to the glute med in my recovery! And – I just uncrossed my legs too!!
What an amazing article on the Quadratus Lumborum! I have heard the term “QL” many times, but just never really understood where it was and what it did. It is a such an important muscle that is responsible for so many movements – elevates, rotates, tilts! I definitely feel like I have overused and underused. Who knew that it worked in conjunction with the gluteus medius on the contra lateral side – another muscle I must look up! Thanks for listing functions and culprits as well!! I can’t wait to use my YTU Therapy Balls to roll out my lower back muscles, including my QL, and my gluteus medius!!
I have used therapy balls on my QL before, but never in such an effective way as in the YTU training. As opposed to just rolling on a pair of balls, we targeted each QL muscle with specific leg movements. I felt immediate relief. As someone who suffers from chronic SI instability, my tight QL (often in a spasm) is many times the culprit. In an effort to stabilize my pelvis, my QL is generally gripped unnecessarily tight. In turn, my overly tight QL can easily pull my SI joint out of place. Now that I have the tools to truly release my QL through rolling, I hope to alleviate some chronic SI pain episodes that often send me running to my manual therapist!
I talk a lot about the QL in my work with pregnant women, but I had no idea how tight mine are until the lower back sequence with the YTU balls that we did today in teacher training. Holy moly! Like so many other sneaky spots, the balls point out the places that have been overworked in weird ways and underloved. I will keep that rolling in mind the next time I catch myself sitting cross-legged. It’s also really helpful that you point out that the QL works in partnership with the contra lateral gluteus maximus; I hadn’t thought of that synergy before.
I just learned about my QL in yoga tune up and had no idea it could be a cause of so many issues. I honestly didn’t even know it existed before YTU. We played around with our YTU balls in class today around our QL area and immediately my low back felt amazing. I am looking forward to the video to show me how to keep it in good shape.
Im currently experiencing a very unruly QL on the right side with spasms at the PIC. Every time it acts up I can feel it in my internal organs. Interesting about the contra lateral glute. I notice I hold a lot of tension in my right glute and tightness in hip flexors on same side I have QL challenges.
I love this article. You are not only clear but you make it so fun. I really love our partner in crime point! Thanks
I often cross my one leg more often than the other, and my lower back pays for it. During yoga TT sitting cross leg and on the floor for hours wreaked havoc on my lower back. The yoga tune up balls have worked wonders in the lumbar region of my spine. It has definitely caused me to pay more attention to my QL
This is a muscle to make sure to incorporate in one’s workout! Having a slight disk issue near T12, a weak lumbar area and knee problems, I know I will!
This area of my back is a problem for me. I was using some of the Yoga Tune Up Balls, and it is… heavenly. I marvel at the many ways and the great lengths these tissues and muscles interact with one another.
I was using the YTBalls on my QL and I felt some pressure around my deltoid.
I have never been more aware of my QL since I’ve started TT and Yoga Tune Up in particular. I always find myself uncomfortable in lower back when sitting for long periods of time, especially cross legged. Today in Yoga Tune Up, the ball exercises we learned that targeted the lumbar area really helped a lot,
I have experienced spasm in my QL which was incredibly uncomfortable and debilitating. This week I’ve been sitting cross legged for long periods of time, so I will definitely try switching my legs on top of the other more often tomorrow. It was also interesting to hear about the relationship between QL and the contra lateral gluteus medius.
Loved this QL blog! I have a lot of information about this muscles and its relationship to the psoas because I’m doing a workshop about the respiratory diaphragm, but thank you for putting the puzzle piece in place with the gluteus medius! Thank you. Well done!
I never realized how weak my QL was until we practiced Jithara Parivartonasana variation 4 (straight legs) in YTU training. One of the trainers pulled one of my heels forward so I was jointstacked through my knees and ankles and what a difference this made!!! Instead of relying so heavily on my trapezius and anterior core muscles, I had to actually recruit my posterior core muscles. I’ve been practicing this for a few weeks and can definitely tell a difference in strength around my lumbar spine.
I tried walking very slowly and consciously and activating the appropriate glute med with the opposite side ql (that hikes the hip up as you take a step), it takes so much effort to make sure it all works accordingly! No wonder when carrying bags and heavy equipment in the gym I hardly have time to think about all the necessary movements to carry it out appropriately. Will be more aware of that and definitely try to have an even balance on both sides! Thanks, love the article.
This is interesting..I”ve been trying to learn more about “slings” recently, posterior, anterior, longitudinal. I thought the posterior sling was a connection between the lattisimis dorsei (sp?) and the opposite glute helping each other out through the thorocolumbar fascia. Is this another posterior sling “the Q.L. and the opposite glute med? I would like to learn more and really get a lot out of your blogs…please continue!! Thanks! BTW, I use to habitually cross my legs always one on top of the other…no more, learned the hard way, really bad habit caused a lot of postural imbalances…pain is a great motivator to change a habit. I’m a both feet on the floor kind of gal now…much better thank you!
I’ve never tried crime, but I’ve seen lots of crime movies. So because of my love for action flicks, I’m going to consider myself an expert on this subject. That said, with my expertise on the subject of Hollywood crime dynamics, I know this. If my crime partner is going to be dysfunctional, this in turn compromises my own ability to perform.
Better said, If Robin was a bumbling idiot, Batman wouldn’t have looked so good. That in turn would have made Cat Woman avoid Batman all together, and they’ve never would have met, which in turn would force the latest Batman movie director to hire an entirely different heroine for last year’s blockbuster.
QL, Gluteus, and Kidney relationship. Very interesting. Possibly mix-in Mr. Psoas and Mr. Diaphragm to the dance?
Thanks for the insight.
I’ve had a desk job for years and have been feeling my QL for a long time but didn’t know what it was! In studying the QL I hadn’t yet thought of the relationship with the gluteus medius and the effect on the hips, knees and a person’s gait. Thanks for such an informative post.
Very informative article. I’m working soo hard on stopping my leg crossing habit! I just taught my first QL ball sequence this week and there was definitely a chorus of moans and groans as we massaged it out! Thanks for the added info!
I JUST switched the crossing of my legs!!! I enjoyed reading this and learning more about the QL – since my final YTU sequence during teacher training focused on this muscle. I wasn’t aware that the QL protected the kidneys. Good to know. My favorite QL ball sequence – which I made up (but definitely nothing new at all) is to stand with your back to the wall, lean on the wall and walk your feet out at an angle to lean into the wall more, place one ball behind you somewhere along the QL and begin to alternate bending and straightening the knees, pressuring into the ball. Readjust the position of the ball to cross fiber the entire length of the muscle.