Have you ever had intense pain in your lower back after a long day of driving or working at your desk? Perhaps with one side that feels worse than the other? Well, most likely your quadratus lumborum on that side is screaming at you in pain.
The quadratus lumborum, aka the QL, is a long, wide, flat, trapezoidal muscle closely resembling a flank steak. It originates from the bottom of the 12th rib and lumbar vertebrae L1~L4. It inserts on top of the iliac crest (hip bone), exists on both sides of the body, and connects the pelvis to the spine. It is functions as one of the deepest abdominal muscle and most of us don’t even know it exists! The QL plays a major role in our daily movement as both sides of the QL work together to extend our spines, and one side works independently to laterally flex the spine.
Have you ever heard that QL dysfunction is a common cause of lower back pain? Here is the reason why.
Imagine yourself sitting for long hours. The spine, in its ideal healthy state, has a S- shaped curve (aka Lordosis), but after sitting for a long time, the spine will change its shape to a C-shaped curve (aka Kyphosis) with the tailbone tucked under. This shape is also known as slumping. Once we stay in this slumped posture, we carry that into everyday life. Think Memory Foam. Your spine has memory, and it will try to retain the shape it is in most often. When you stay in poor posture day in and day out, your QL is affected as well results in muscle fatigue. The sluggish muscle will then experience a decreased blood flow. Unless you learn to stretch or release it, in time, adhesions in the muscle and fascia can form. This can result in painful muscle spasms, bulged discs, or even disc herniation.
Scary thought. But the good news is, there are things you can do to alleviate pain. You can roll out your lower back with Yoga Tune Up® Therapy balls. For deep muscles like the QL or Psoas, I recommend using bigger balls, like Therapy Ball Plus or the ALPHA Ball, so you can achieve deeper penetration into the tissue. Check out The Roll Model Bonus Move: Obliques, QL and Psoas.
You can also loosen/strengthen the QL by introducing certain movements to change your postural pattern. Lengthening the spine with yoga poses like Downward Facing Dog is a great thing to do. But when stretching the muscle alone doesn’t do your back justice, we need to find a way to wake up and strengthen it.
Come back on Friday for my QL fix that can be done anywhere there is a wall!
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I tend to sit and slouch at work pulling the QLs in on direction for a long period of time. I never knew how this daily movement could really affect my body over time. I did not know what the quadratus lumborum were until after taking an anatomy class. In class, I was able to identify where they were located in the body and we used therapy balls to palpate each side.
The “boomerang” exercise is great, you do not need any equipment and can do it anywhere. I’ve tried it on the wall and my lower back felt much better. I am more aware about increasing your range of motion can create a balance in your body and prevent injury.
Yes, I love using the Yoga Tune Up balls on my QLs, and this sentence is really resonating with me: “Your spine has memory, and it will try to retain the shape it is in most often.”
It’s such a good reminder to set your “default” posture to one in which the spine can remain supple, mobile, and most supportive of life’s daily demands. Over time, it will become easier to return to this shape as the body develops the musculature to support this desired posture. I think every time I catch myself slumping (or whenever I remember…) I will repeat that line like a mantra! Thanks Kyoko.
PS Also loved reading your bio!
Thank you for sharing this! I never knew why there was pain after a long day of sitting – now I know it’s because the spine changes shape. Thanks for suggestions on how to target the QL!
Thank-you Kyoko for sharing!
I have one side that is problematic and while I have learned what muscle is causing me grief, I’m still exploring what I can do about it. Your link to the Bonus Obliques, QL & Psoas was great!
Great information. QL might be the one (two!) muscle that YTU practice has helped me to tune into. There’s a lot going on down there and it’s definitely true that daily life is terribly unkind to the lower back. It’s probably wise to make caring for the QL part of your daily routine, especially if other parts of your day are spent abusing it.
Rolling QL the other day in our Level 1 YTU training was revolutionary to me. I didn’t know my one side was so unhappy! Then, during the Master Class, I realized how my QL — both sides — were sleeping on the job (or at least it seems that way). Something to give more focus and attention to, rolling on the balls, sitting at my computer (like now) or anywhere. Never thought of it as the deepest of the abdominal muscles, as you describe it. Interesting idea. Thanks!
My QL is a constant thorn in my side (literally!), so this was super helpful information – especially couple with the photos of what happens in the spine when sitting for long hours at a desk. Really enjoyed the link to the video for extra help with some ball rolling to help release along with anatomical tip for yoga poses of lengthening the spine. Thanks, Kyoko!
I love the idea of thinking about postural habits as a memory foam.
“Your spine has memory, and it will try to retain the shape it is in most often.”
if we want to change the pattern of pain we have to change our habits. Simply adding a few minutes a day of rolling with Yoga Tune Up® therapy balls can really help.
Great post! Once I started rolling more, I realized where exactly my QL was. Also – I realized how incredibly tight it was from sitting all day at work. It is also interesting how closely the QL and Psoas work together to help tether the hips at a proper position. When one is tight (whether overused or underused), it can pull the hips into an anterior or posterior pelvic tilt and cause back pain! I always thought I had a back problem…now I realize it was a hip problem. Hips don’t lie. Wonderful post!
I really enjoyed reading this blog. I’ve always had mild back pain and it was magified by pregnancy. I will be paying closer attention to my QL and reading more into what I can do with the therapy balls to help alleviate this pain.
Thanks for the insight Kyoko. I have absolutely experienced the lower back pain you’re referring to – in past jobs where I was seated at a desk (8 hours), my QL would become fatigued due to poor posture. I applaud you for mentioning the release of psoas as a method of relieving the QL. I have found in my personal experience and professional practice that releasing the psoas allows for improved ability to contract the tubular core, thereby protecting the QL muscle from injury. I have also found that rolling the QL with my legs and feet against a wall (an assisted waterfall) has helped to really dig deep into the tissue. I create a “4” with my leg, crossing my ankle over my opposing knee. I am able to then shift my weight back and forth on the QL while contracting my core. If my QL is very inflamed, this position allows me to “attack” the muscle from a 45 degree angle. Gravity does the rest!
Thanks again for this informative blog about the QL! It is also “go to” spots for rolling. When I started practising yoga about 9 years ago, I would consider myself really hypermobile in the spine, I would easily get into any backbends no problem. Problem was, I never had any integrity in my core to support my spine or any postural awareness, so now as a result, my QL “acts” up once in a while if I am not careful. So thanks again for the reminder that stretching alone is not enough and that especially for me, we also need to strengthen. thanks kyoko!
Thank you for this description of the QL. I have had some tenderness in my QL for years and I am finally learning how to manage it with correct posture- an awareness of it in my day to day not just while standing in tadasana. I am looking forward to learning different rolling techniques to use as soon as I feel it tightening and creating that lower back discomfort.
This is one of my go-to spots for every day rolling. Besides the fact that I know I have a curve around L1/L2 which has caused all of my back musculature to compensate, taking care of my back by rolling on the QL always makes it feel so much better. Thanks for the memory foam metaphor! Great context.
Back pain is so prevalent. We as a society need to move in a wide variety of ways. Thank you for bringing some education to this!
prise de conscience de la facon donc je vais m’assoir maintenant et merci pour les exercices a faire pour corriger la situation.
i enjoyed your straight forward explanation. my father is constantly sitting, working on the computer. He always complains of lower back problems, of course! i like how you likened the spine to memory foam – very helpful when i try to correct him again. i tried encouraging him to stand at least but that lasted only a few days. still trying but thanks for the additional info that i will certainly share with him.
So I do have a minor bulging disc in my lower lumbar region.
My dr. recommended an anti-inflammatory but I’ve been rolling and it’s helping. I have also been doing what Max Bayuk has been doing and rolling the obliques and it definitely helps. To Elizabeth Bond’s point about manufacturers not designing car seats properly to take into account the QL and what its needs are …I fully agree! I’ll be packing my balls for on the go so I can take care of that QL the way it deserves to be!!
Thanks Kyoko very informative!!
The recommendation to use the Alpha or the Therapy Plus balls really helps me understand how to access the area most importantly. Thanks for your knowledge, I’m looking to release the low back and this will definitely help.
I really liked how you used the analogy of “memory foam.” Yes, the hunched over position (i.e., spinal flexion and hip flexion) can set up for “locked long” myofascia in the back and “locked short” in the front and side (i.e., QL) . In addition, the posture may even lead to rotation, which would impact the QL even more. This can further lead to low back issues and SI joint issues. I am definitely looking forward to seeing your video on how to find a fix for the QL.
Thank you for this amazing description of QL and what it does in the body. I teach yoga at multiple locations in South Florida so I commute a lot in my car. Car manufactures definitely didn’t have the QL in mind when they made bucket car seats that encourage slumping in the lower back. To counteract the stress of my commutes on my QL I started sitting in the car with 2 YTU Therapy balls in their tote behind my QL’s while driving. My lower back, posture, and breathing has benefited from awakening and relieving these important muscles!
Oh my QL! Thank you for these tips to open up this area. My body seems to revolve around this hidden muscle and one side seems to take the brunt. Rolling this muscle out and the surrounding areas has made a HUGE difference in the pain I used to carry around. So if you have this low back pain peeps, get your balls out and use ’em!
Great article Kyoko! I can do downward facing dog with the best of them and do it often because I teach yoga, but am realizing that more attention needs to be paid to my QL. I took a YTU class recently where the QL was the focus and I have to say it was one of the most intense classes I have ever taken. That muscles needs some TLC!
Great article to demystify an issue many desk jockeys and people that sit all day suffer from. I keep therapy balls at work so I can use them when I must in meetings. Place them in my lower back and enjoy the benefits the whole time.
Good advice! I really enjoyed learning about the QL in the YTU Level 1 training this week and using the therapy balls on it at the wall. I admit, this was new to me. I do, however, really need to work on strengthening this muscle, so thank you for that reminder.
Thanks for this tip and reminder that stretching alone is not enough. Our bodies need multiple modalities to treat the area and to get to the muscles we have to massage into the levels of fascia to uncover these large and hidden muscles. I tried this today and I felt a release which allowed me to not only get to know my body more intimately but realizing we hold much tension in that area.
I think this is a great reminder, my mother was always reminding me and my siblings about our posture. Look at the younger generation it’s really sad how they are mostly all slumped!!! Getting back to basic posture strengthening is so key. Thanks for reminding us of something so simple but so very important.
Kyoto this article has helped me get rid of this nagging back pain after sitting for three days in case I have found relief .its so funny how one area is in pain and when you start rolling around you find all areas need attention .Everything is connected !
Kyoko I am all about releasing my QL. It’s so interesting to me how most people don’t associate low back to the abominals actually the general public has no idea of what a Quadratus Lumbordum is. When the time comes, I look forward to helping those with angry low backs. Hi
Thank you. This is very interesting. It seems like our western lifestyle is starting to catch up with us. All the sitting down and computer work has left us in all kinds of pain and instability. I find myself frequently having low back pain and tension in hip flexors. I will pay more attention to my obliques and use the ball to see if it makes difference.
I do have scoliosis and through PT and yoga am now pain free although after sitting for long periods I do have pain. I now have a new tool in my arsenal for lower back pain. Thank you!
I have a scoliosis of my lumbar spine causing pain in the QL muscle on one side of my body, due to it being contracted all the time. After many years I’ve realised that this tention impact the work of my digestive organs. I’ve started feeling pain in my stomach and bowel. For a long time I did not link those two together, however after rolling the YTU balls on lower back and feeling loads of pain, first time in years I had no problem with digestion that day. You can call it miracle, I call YTU 🙂
I love your detailed explanation of how our postural habits create great imbalances in our body. I learned about QL imbalance in my body. it always feels more sensitive on the right side and this where I often have issues if turn incorrectly or side bend in a wearied way. Usually, I experience pain for a few days but rolling YTU balls on my QL gives me almost instant relief. I love such healing power of the YTU balls. It also empowers me on my journey of self-care and knowing where my muscles are. Today, I also learned how QL and psoas are practically “twin brothers”. It is amazing how everything is so interconnected in our bodies.
The reference to adhesions is spot on. I wonder how many suffer from adhesions or trigger points that prevent this QL muscle from functioning in its normal movement pattern. The tighter QL the greater incidence of back pain. I like the reference to a flank steak. It provides a great visual to understand what the muscle looks like under our skin.
Working with computers all day, many of us have a tendency to lean, or slouch, to one side. Over the years (decades =^0) such habits seem to lead to self-induced scoliosis. Your article leads me to think that imbalanced QL’s play a significant role in this.
Aye yi yi, Again with this what happens on Friday business. I really wish YTU was as good at linking to the follow up articles as it is at linking to products to sell. It’s just so off-putting to yoga tune up as a brand and undermines all the good stuff YTU has to offer.
I would love more suggestions — as the post suggest you are going to give more detail on how to target the QL. What would also be great is if you have ideas about how to minimize the imbalances from one side to the other once you have figured them out.
Also – how much stretching / strengthening (and which?) should be prioritized for the obliques and psoas?
It’s amazing how much we make the psoas muscle work. I always associate it with the hips and the need to warm it up for yoga poses. But it also plays such a big role in lower back pain as well given its proximity to the sacrum.
Really liked how this post broke down the important role our habitual movements have on what causes us pain (particularly too much sitting!). Even though it isn’t easy, I’ve been taking steps to change my bad habits and hopefully improve my anatomy. Recently started using a standing desk and I’ve already started noticing positive differences.
This is so great! This year I started practicing yoga a few times a week and found that my QL really needed it. In any standing hip opening poses where we side bend I get an enormous stretch. Yoga has become essential for my lower back hip area. Now I’m trying to navigate whether I have habits that keep my QL tight and unhealthy. I feel that the Yoga is helping but I also find my muscles go back to their tight spot if I haven’t stretched it after a few days. I will definitely try the ball sequence to my self care in this area.
So what are the things to do? Is there a link to another post that I missed? A lot of these posts say “com back friday” with nothing else. I’m confused. I saw the video but it looks like the writer is referring to something else.
Koyok, Thanks for the info I will add this to my list of things to try out….. im always on the look out for rehab/prehab stuff for my back. I wouldn’t have guest you could hit the QL from the side like that…. it must just be the posterior tissues? I will play around with this one more.
Im finding after rolling my Q.L. out on the balls and doing boomerang my low back and hips feel better after long flights or drives. After rolling, my down dog and overall lower back feel so much better and more length in my spine. Thanks for sharing Kyoko!
Thanks Kyoko for your detailed description of location and function of the QL. Those with scoliosis in the lumbar spine also have an interesting challenge where compensation takes course. Will refer my clients to this blog post with chronic low back pain.
Thank you so much for this blog. My QLs are often talking to me, and I used to think it was the top of my glutes. But after learning that the QL also inserts on the illiac crest, I realised that my QLs were the culprit of my pain. Now I roll out the entire length of the muscle, which really helps to release the.
Interesting to learn that poor posture and lack of stimulation to muscles like the QL that often fly under the radar leads to decreased blood flow and muscle fatigue.
After directly massaging and stretching my low back for a long time without much progress, I finally learned to massage and stretch the neighboring muscles next to the low back like the QL (and the psoas and obliques), which are constantly playing tug of war with my low back. The difference has been huge – much more effective release for the low back, plus new sensation and increased flexibility in the sides of my torso and my hips.
Using the therapy balls for the QL in a static pose for my athletes is there absolute favourite. They feel such a huge release from doing this and always moan and groan when I take them out as they feel such a huge release.