Considering the analogy “Sitting is the new smoking” the quadratus lumborum (QL) can be thought of as the ‘lungs’ of the lower back. Yes, I am suggesting that sitting negatively affects the QL just as smoking negatively affects the lungs and both can create dis-ease/disease in the body. The QL sits deep in the back waist, a flat sheet of muscle, one on each side, attaching to the posterior iliac crest and inserting at the lumbar vertebrae and the 12th rib. When bilaterally contracted the QL extends the lumbar spine and when one side is contracted it acts to laterally flex the spine or if the upper body is stabilized it will elevate one hip. The latter action gives the QL the nickname “hip hiker” this action lifts one side of the pelvis when stepping over a log or simply creating space for one leg to swing ahead of the other when walking. The QL plays an important role in stabilizing the lumbar spine, an area that is highly susceptible to pain and discomfort. The strength and flexibility of these muscles is vital in maintaining a healthy spine.
Just as smoking can harm the lungs, sitting can impede optimal functioning of the QL. If you allow your lower back to round, the QL will be in constant state of flexion, and therefore a persistent state of stretching which decreases tonicity. Being that the QL is a major player in stabilizing the lumbar spine, lacking muscular tone in the QL will create lower back vulnerability. If you are in the habit of watching your posture as you sit, nurturing the natural curves in your spine you still run the risk of stressing out the QL. With the psoas contracting to flex the hip in a seated position the QL would normally lengthen and stretch. Instead it has to step up to support the spine and therefore is in a constant state of contraction. This work is amplified if sitting entails hunching over a computer, rounding the upper spine and shoulders shifts the weight forward placing even more stress on the QL. This overuse leads to muscle fatigue and weakness with decreased blood flood the area.
If “sitting is the new smoking” then sitting crossed legged is like smoking an unfiltered cigarette, creating even greater negative repercussions as the QL continues to over work trying to stabilize the spine and hike one hip, quite possibly resulting in debilitating muscular imbalances. A final point drawing this parallel of sitting/smoking and lungs/QL is considering that the QL assists in respiration by fixing the 12th rib in place when the diaphragm contracts on a forced exhalation. Suppleness and health in the QL can allow for a full, more powerful breath, and Quadratus Lumborum pain and muscle dysfunction inhibit optimal breath. Maybe I should have opened with that point – WOW.
Check in on Friday for a great YTU pose that both strengthens and stretches your achy QL.