The quadratus lumborum muscle is one of the top causes of low back pain. Still, it’s not the only muscle that can cause pain in your back. Read on to discover whether this muscle is a problem for you.
Maybe you first noticed your back pain when you twisted to look over your shoulder while driving your car.
Perhaps it was a fateful incident where you were bent over tying your shoes and sneezed.
But maybe you just woke up one day, went to get out of bed, and it was there.
Regardless of whatever happened to first cause your back pain, you need to understand that your back muscles have probably been secretly plotting against you for quite some time.
They’ve been tired, overworked, and angry. But, they haven’t said a word. Until now.
Finally, you’ve done it and they can no longer stand it!
If you’re feeling like you’ve somehow pushed your back muscles to the point of revolt, it’s time to take a minute to learn about your quadratus lumborum muscle.
And, more importantly, what you can do to make it happy again after you’ve incurred its wrath.
Related: If you’re searching for information about the quadratus lumborum muscle because you’re trying to figure out how to do some effective DIY back pain relief, check out my online course, Spinal Rejuvenation. You’ll learn everything you need to know to relieve hip and low back pain from the privacy of your own home.
Want to try out a free sample of Spinal Rejuvenation? Just click here.
Would you rather just watch a quick video to learn about the QL muscle?
Learning about muscles can be complicated and frustrating. If you’re more of a visual and auditory learner, check out this video from my other site Custom Pilates and Yoga to quickly learn about the quadratus lumborum muscle and what it does.
Not interested in a video? No sweat! Just keep on reading, my friend.
Where Is the Quadratus Lumborum Muscle?
The quadratus lumborum originates on the iliac crest and the iliolumbar ligament. The iliolumbar ligament runs from the 5th lumbar vertebra out to the ilium.
The quadratus lumborum inserts on the 12th rib and on the transverse processes of the upper four lumbar vertebrae (L1-L4). The transverse processes are the spike-like portion of the bone that sticks off of the main body of the vertebra.
In plain English: This muscle helps connect the spine and the bottom of the rib cage to the pelvis.
What Does It Do?
The quadratus lumborum has three main functions. It helps you:
- bend straight over to the side,
- extend straight back like when you stretch in your chair, and
- stabilize your bottom rib during deep breathing.
You may not think you bend straight over to the side very often, but you probably do this more often than you think. For example, if you were sitting in a chair and wanted to set something on the floor beside the chair, you would bend to the side to set the object down.
Here, you’re reaching your rib cage toward your hips, but the QL works the opposite way, too. As the ribs move toward the hips, the hips may also move toward the ribs.
Think about when you’re carrying something on your hip (like groceries or a child), and it starts to slip. Automatically, the hip may jostle the object upward to restore balance. It’s the QL that helps with that movement.
In addition to lateral flexion, the quadratus lumborum helps extend the lumbar vertebrae and provide lateral stability. So, when you take a break and stretch backward, that’s the QL working.
Another function of the quadratus lumborum is that it stabilizes the 12th rib during deep respiration. This helps stabilize the diaphragm for singers exercising voice control.
So, How Does the Quadratus Lumborum Muscle Cause Back Pain?
The reason the QL is one of the top culprits for back pain is for two main reasons. First of all, the quadratus lumborum does often get tight or weak and cause pain.
Second, when this muscle gets injured, it has no choice but to reach out to other back muscles for help. Literally, it will connect itself with fascia to a neighbor and recruit that other muscle to do its work while it heals.
But then, once the muscle has healed, those old adhesions still exist. Whichever muscle was asked to step up and work harder, doesn’t automatically get released from its new job duties.
Instead, you have to specifically massage or roll to break-up and remove these adhesions. Only then will your now-repaired muscle be able to get back to work.
So, in order to figure out whether your quadratus lumborum muscle is the cause of your back pain, you need to do some investigating. Your first step is to get to know your QL’s neighboring muscles.
The QL’s Neighbors
Imagine a police lineup filled with your back muscles. I like to think of the movie The Usual Suspects when I think about back muscles.
This is because you have a handful of muscles that could be the one causing your pain. Each one of them could be guilty.
But, as you look through the suspects, your instincts kick in and tell you that some muscles, like the QL, just seem a little more guilty than the others.
So, let’s take a look at our list of suspects.
Quadratus Lumborum. The QL is often the first one to be blamed. It’s the one that seems to be the most guilty, and it has a bad rep for a good reason.
Erector Spinae. This muscle is really a group, so think of this muscle as a trouble-maker with mob ties. With muscles spanning the entire length of your spine, any single muscle in the erector spinae group can have an issue and cause pain up or down the chain.
Iliopsoas. This muscle seems to be a throw-away suspect. After all, the psoas is mostly responsible for hip flexion, so it might not even make sense to treat it as a suspect. However, this sneaky muscle is also a leading cause of low back pain (especially if you are also suffering from hip pain).
Related: Psoas: Learn Your Muscles
Iliocostalis Lumborum. And then, there’s the QL’s nearly-identical brother, the iliocostalis lumborum. Because it’s located near the QL and its functions are so similar, iliocostalis lumborum pain is often misdiagnosed as a quadratus lumborum issue.
After you take a look through your list of suspects, you still have to do some investigating to decide which one is actually your culprit.
How Can You Be Sure Which Muscle Is Causing Your Pain?
With so many back muscles possibly connected, you might be wondering how the heck you’re going to ever figure out which muscle is the true cause of your pain.
Just to be completely honest, you may not find out definitively which muscle is causing your pain.
Because these muscles have so much overlap in duties, your quest for the truth might end up more like an unsolved mystery.
But, the good news is that merely investigating the cause of your back pain should be enough to provide immediate and long-lasting relief.
Investigating Your Back Pain
Now that you’re committed to doing some snooping and seeing if you can figure out which muscle is causing your back pain, follow these steps.
- Start breaking up adhesions. Use a foam roller, dead tennis balls, or foam massage balls like The Orb to help break up old adhesions. If you’re a fan of when a massage therapist digs into your low back with his or her elbow, you might want to check out The QL Claw.
- Learn about your muscles one-by-one. This is a little labor-intensive, but you’ll want to learn about the other muscles near the QL. Learn what movements they make and which exercises you can do to strengthen + stretch them.
- Try out muscle-specific exercises. Pay attention to how your body feels as you do a couple of exercises for each muscle. Make sure to avoid doing the same exercise twice.
- Is there one muscle that seems to be weaker or less capable than the others? If there is, that one’s most likely your cause of back pain.
How Does the QL Get Injured?
Unfortunately, the quadratus lumborum can become injured simply by performing its standard actions. If you bend sideways incorrectly or lift from a sideways position too quickly, you can hurt yourself.
In fact, it is incredibly common for people who do their heavy carrying on one side (be it groceries or kids) to agitate this muscle. Then, when the quadratus lumborum muscle starts to protest, it will show up as low back pain.
But, the simple fact is that this muscle is just as easy as any other back muscle to injure.
Could you bend too far to the side and make it angry? Sure.
Might you reach too far back in your chair one day and feel a spasm? You bet.
Is it possible you could, one day, take a breath so deep that it totally disrupts your QL’s way of life? No, not really. You can cross that one off the list.
But, if you feel like you have angered your quadratus lumborum, fear not! There are things you can do to make this muscle happy again, restore harmony in your body, and kiss your back pain goodbye.
How to Make Your Quadratus Lumborum Muscle Feel Better
First of all, I recommend that if you feel pain, you should talk to your doctor before trying anything else. Your doctor can order imaging, medication, and therapy to appropriately and correctly treat your issue.
But if your doctor has cleared you and you’re ready to try some DIY exercises to relieve back pain, I have a couple of ideas.
First, it’s important to know that tightness = weakness. So, when you’re deciding what you want to do to make your low back feel better, be aware that you will need to stretch and strengthen those muscles in order to feel better.
Related: Check out 14 Powerful Quadratus Lumborum Exercises that Will Relieve Your Back Pain for QL exercises and The Best QL Stretch of Your Life: 5 Powerful Exercises for the best QL stretches.
The Activity That’s Going to Make You Feel Better Right Now
Stretches and strengthening exercises are crucial for your pain relief. However, there is another activity that brings greater, longer-lasting relief.
Rolling. Remember, that thing you’re supposed to do to make sure your back muscles aren’t all tied together?
Yes, that activity will break up adhesions, encourage additional blood flow to your painful area, help you relieve your pain immediately, and help you feel less pain tomorrow.
Related: Not interested in the complete guide? Click on the links to learn how to roll your QL with an Orb massage ball or tennis balls. Or, check out The QL Claw if you’re interested in a static massage tool.
Want to Learn More About Relieving Low Back Pain?
If you’re researching the quadratus lumborum muscle today because you have some back pain that you’re trying to get rid of, you’re in luck! I’ve created a course to teach you everything you need to know to permanently ditch hip and back pain. Click here to check out my Spinal Rejuvenation program.
Or, if you want a free taste of what you’ll learn in Spinal Rejuvenation, click here to download The Fast + Easy Way to Relieve Hip + Back Pain.
Also, Kenhub.com is a leader in human anatomy-related information. To learn more about the quadratus lumborum, click here.
You can also check out The Concise Book of Muscles by Chris Jarmey to learn more about the quadratus lumborum and other muscles. (When you buy this book through this link, I earn a small commission.)
Or, if you want to get really in-depth, check out the Flash Anatomy Muscles Flash Cards. I turn to these flashcards any time a client comes in with pain. (Again, if you buy this item through this link, I earn a small commission.)