Everything You Need to Know to Fix Your Tight Quadratus Lumborum Yourself
If you’ve got a tight quadratus lumborum, you want to cut right to the chase and start relieving your back pain ASAP. Here’s what to do.
Ah, the joys of getting older. Never in a million years would I have guessed as a child that the mood of an entire day could be ruined by an ill-timed sneeze in the morning or by simply bending over to tie your shoes.
Yet, time and time again, it does. Often, the cause is a tight quadratus lumborum.
Your body assumes the QL will go along with the sneeze, bend forward, or what have you. Then, your QL teaches you that when you assume, you make an ass out of, well, mostly just you.
But, the good news is that if you’re struggling with a tight QL, there are many easy exercises you can do to start stretching that muscle and feeling better immediately.
Below are my five favorite exercises for a tight quadratus lumborum. (And, if you’re only going to do one of those exercises regularly, make sure it’s #1.)
Related: Pssst! The #1 exercise to stretch your tight QL is rolling. Just click this link to get a free guide to teach you how to roll your entire body and relieve pain.
Where is the quadratus lumborum muscle?
Your quadratus lumborum muscle is one of several muscles in your low back. It helps connect the spine and the bottom of the rib cage to the pelvis.
The quadratus lumborum originates on top edge of the back of your pelvis, which is called your iliac crest. It inserts on the bottom edge of your 12th rib and on the transverse processes of the upper four lumbar vertebrae.
Related: If reading that description of where the quadratus lumborum leaves you scratching your head and wondering whether you’ve found the culprit for your pain, check out Your Quadratus Lumborum Muscle and Back Pain | What You Need to Know to learn about what other muscles could be to blame.
What causes a tight quadratus lumborum?
When I was younger, I thought tightness was from overworking or somehow getting too strong. What I didn’t realize was tightness is really the same thing as weakness.
Although it’s possible that your tight quadratus lumborum is the result of too many lower back exercises, it’s more likely that your QL is just imbalanced. For a muscle to be healthy, it needs to be able to give and take. This means you want to do as much work stretching a tight muscle as you do strengthening it.
It can be hard to know exactly what caused your tight quadratus lumborum in the first place. Even if you have a pretty good idea of what you might have done to cause your pain (coughed, sneezed, tied your shoes, grabbed a can out of the cupboard—the QL is a particularly cranky muscle), it’s still a good idea to practice an even combination of stretching and strengthening exercises.
Should you worry about your tight quadratus lumborum?
All over the world, average people are able to use simple stretches and exercises to relieve their back pain. If there is no reason to believe that your situation is extraordinary, you should also be able find relief for your back pain.
You’ve done the hard part by identifying which muscle is to blame for your pain. Now, you just need to do the exercises.
You should see a doctor for your tight quadratus lumborum if…
Although most folks with a tight quadratus lumborum will be able to use stretches and exercises to relieve their pain, there are some instances when it would be best to see your doctor.
See your doctor if you:
- have been in pain for more than a week;
- feel like your back pain has gotten worse; or
- notice weakness, tingling, or numbness down your legs or in your feet.
According to Healthline.com, you should also see your doctor if you have a history of:
- steroid use, or
- drug or alcohol abuse.
How to Fix Your Tight Quadratus Lumborum Yourself
If you feel like you’ve got average run-of-the-mill back pain and a tight quadratus lumborum is the cause, you’re in luck! For most people in your situation, doing some strategic stretching and strengthening will relieve the tightness (and any back pain you may have).
Here’s what you need to do to fix your tight quadratus lumborum yourself.
Rolling is the #1 thing you should do to relieve a tight quadratus lumborum. Seriously, if you’re only going to do one exercise daily or a couple times a week, this should be the one. A little bit of rolling will take you a long way with low back pain relief.
- Begin against a wall with your massage ball. I recommend an Orb or Orb Extreme, but a tennis ball or lacrosse ball will also work well. (Those links take you to Amazon. If you make a purchase from them, I earn a small commission at no charge to you.)
- Place the ball to one side of your spine near the top of the back of your pelvis.
- Bend and straighten your knees to roll the ball up and down your back. This should be right over your tight quadratus lumborum. You want to roll the space between your bottom ribs and top of your pelvis.
- To get even more stretch, rotate your body into the ball so you can feel the area of your back further away from your spine get a nice massage.
- When it feels like you’ve got one side of your back finished, repeat steps 2-4 to switch sides.
- Then, when it feels like you’ve got your other side complete, move your stretch to the floor. Place the ball in the space between your ribs and the top of your pelvis. Breathe and try to relax.
- When you feel good, switch sides.
Related: If rolling isn’t your thing, you could check out The QL Claw. With the QL Claw, you place the tool at your low back and rest on it for a short time. I’ve tried it out, and it can be a quick-but-intense pain reliever.
Imprint, pelvic tilt—call it what you will. If you go to physical therapy for back pain relief, they’re going to have you do this exercise.
But, read these directions carefully! I have known some instructors and physical therapists to incorrectly teach this basic, leaving it about as helpful as a floppy knife in your quest for a pain-free back.
- Inhale through your nose, and exhale through pursed lips.
- As you breathe, imagine a spot in the middle of your abdomen. Inhale into the sides of your rib cage and, as you exhale, think of hugging all your muscles in your abdomen toward that spot. (This should include all the muscles in your low back, too.)
- Inhale into the sides of your ribs and, as you exhale, think of using your abdominals to reach toward that spot in the middle of your abdomen. Your low back should reach toward the floor, although it probably won’t completely touch or press flat against it.
- Make sure that the muscles in the front of your hips (your psoas) and your glutes aren’t active. They aren’t supposed to work while you do this exercise.
- Feel your QL stretch.
- Inhale and find the muscles in your low back to return your pelvis to neutral. When you activate the correct muscles (ahem, your QL), you’ll feel your back start to lift away from the floor. If you’re not sure how to find the correct muscles for this movement, here’s an idea. Imagine you’re out with a person you don’t really like, and they put their hand on your low back. Possibly you would be polite and wouldn’t pull away or make a big deal about it, but inside of you, every fiber of your being would be trying to get away. This is the image that I use to get my pelvis to return to neutral.
- Repeat steps 3-6 while breathing. Make sure your neck stays in neutral and your shoulders stay away from your ears.
- Complete 5-10 reps.
3. Locust pose.
- Inhale and exhale through your nose while you do this exercise.
- Begin on your stomach.
- Bring your legs parallel (so your kneecaps face down). You can have them completely together or with a bit of space between your legs. Honestly, with low back pain, you should keep some space between your legs. But, as your tight quadratus lumborum becomes stronger, you can start to move your legs together.
- Reach your arms by your sides with your fingers spread and palms up.
- Take a moment to broaden your collarbones and ensure that your shoulder blades are in neutral on your back.
- Reach from the top of your head through the tips of your toes.
- Inhale and engage your abdominals. Feel your belly lift toward your spine. Then, activate your adductors (inner thighs). For many people, there is a connection between the abdominals and the adductors; working one may help you work the other.
- Exhale and use your glutes to lift your legs off the ground and extend your upper back (thoracic spine). From a side view, you should look like a smiley face with your head and feet lifted to comparable levels. Think about letting your upper back soften and your heart rotate forward as you hold.
- Hold and breathe. As you inhale, lengthen; as you exhale, soften.
- Take 3-5 full breaths.
- Lower on the last exhale.
I love a good multi-tasking exercise, and this version of Mermaid lets you stretch one QL while you strengthen the other!
- Take a seat. You can sit on the floor or in a chair. You can sit with your legs crossed or straight in front of you. Just make sure you’re comfortable.
- Inhale through your nose.
- Exhale through pursed lips, and hug your belly button to your spine.
- Inhale as you raise an arm. Feel your fingertips lift toward the ceiling, and feel your ribs reach away from your hips.
- Exhale. Lift up and reach over (like you’re making a “C”) as you bend to the side.
- Inhale to come up to center.
- Exhale to lower your arm.
- Inhale and raise the opposite arm, so you can go to the other side.
- Exhale. Lift up and reach over (like you’re making a “C”) as you bend to the side.
- Complete 3-5 reps on each side.
Related: Want to learn how to use the best pain-relieving exercises to specifically help you feel better? I’ll teach you in Spinal Rejuvenation!
5. This spine-stretching breathing exercise.
I learned this exercise sequence a while ago, and I’m still loving how it makes my back feel!
- Stand with your feet about a fist’s distance apart.
- Take a couple of breaths. Inhale through your nose. Exhale through pursed lips.
- Inhale. Then, as you exhale, bend forward. You should feel a good stretch in your low back.
- Inhale and come up to standing.
- Exhale and bend straight to the side. Don’t let your shoulders round forward and close off your body. Try to become a candy cane or shepherd’s crook.
- Inhale and come back to center.
- Exhale and bend to the other side. Same rules apply. Keep your chest open as you bend at the waist.
- Inhale and come back to center.
- Exhale and reach straight back. Think of lifting up out of your hips, then reaching back. This will ensure you don’t make an already-mad muscle even angrier.
- Go through this sequence 3 times.
Want to learn more about fixing your tight quadratus lumborum?
If you’re like me, then once you try out those five exercises you’re going to be wanting more! To find more excellent exercises for a tight quadratus lumborum, check out 14 Powerful Quadratus Lumborum Exercises that Will Relieve Your Back Pain.
Then, once you check out all the other QL exercises, you still might want to learn more about how to relieve back pain and get rid of your tight quadratus lumborum permanently. If you’re still wanting more, that’s exactly what my course, Spinal Rejuvenation, is for.
When you’re searching for help from a pro to walk you step-by-step through your pain-relieving process, Spinal Rejuvenation is just what you want.
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.
Special thanks to Kenhub.com, a leader in human anatomy-related information, for use of their quadratus lumborum image. To learn more about the quadratus lumborum from Kenhub, click here.