The Quadrates Lumborum (also known as the QL) is a rather sneaky set of muscles. Nobody really talks about them unless it’s too late and you’re sprawled out over a PT table being put in positions you never imagined you would ever be in. Thats right, the QL is a muscle that the average back pain sufferer needs to get checked out to make sure it’s not the reason you’re going through your day popping Tylenol. My goal for you today is to be able to identify the Quadratus Lumborum, learn to self test for a potential tight QL, along with ways you’re going to beat it into submission (not literally but you know what I mean).
I want to take a few minutes and show you exactly what you need to know to get started on mashing out your tight Quadratus Lumborum (QL). I have a lot of different QL stretches I could show you but for the sake of your sanity I am going to give you one from each level of difficulty (basic, medium and hard).
What the heck is the Quadratus Lumborum (QL)
Well duh, it’s only the deepest level of muscles that could be the culprit to your back pain! Besides the obvious, the QL’s sole purpose in the body is to connect the pelvis to the spine. On top of that the QL is also responsible for lateral flexion of the spine (think of laying on the floor and wiggling back and forth like a snake or fish out of water, thats your QL talking), and extension of the lumbar region of the spine. Another mental picture of what the QL does: Think about holding a 45lb dumbbell in your right hand and nothing in the left. It’s your left QL muscle that is firing to help stabilize the spine and keep you upright.
Not only does the Quadratus Lumborum help you carry 15 bags of groceries using one hand, into the house in one trip, it also has a huge impact on lower back pain. The problem some people run into is getting a tight QL mixed up with some of the other muscles in the surrounding area. If you’re not confident self-diagnosing and figuring it out on your own, go talk to one of your Physical Therapist friends and have them poke around on you a bit to muster up a better diagnosis. If you know for a fact that you do have a rather tight QL than you’re in the right place.
Before we jump in, I put together a bonus video with 3 more of my most effective QL specific tissue release and stretching techniques along with a small, easy to follow QL release protocol. I’ll link them up at the end of this article!
Random Note: A simple way to introduce yourself to your QL is to test it’s strength by seeing how long you can hold a side plank. The QL is a big player in maintaining a neutral spine. An easy way to help build your hypothesis of week QL is to time your side plank holds. If on one side you can do 45 seconds and the other over a minute you might want to spend some time evening this out.
How do I know if my Quadratus Lumborum (QL) is tight?
If you have read this blog for any amount of time it’s clear that I am a strong believer in empowering the individual to take their healing into their own hands. I have been down the medical practice road and can account first hand the misguidance I was given. I will say, before I went off on my own I had two MRI’s done just so that I had a clear diagnosis of what my issue was before I went poking around. Long story short, get diagnosed from someone you trust then get to a place where you can go off on your own and start making your own decisions.
Some of the common signs and symptoms of a tight QL are as follows:
- Your lower back pain over time develops into what seems like a severe hip pain.
- Over time the pain from the tight QL could translate into the groin area which could also develop into sciatica symptoms
- When you cough or sneeze, your pain triples. This is normally due to the QL attempting to stabilize the rib cage while coughing and sneezing (check out the far right image above, do you see where the QL attaches going up the lower portion of the spine?).
- It’s been said that people constantly attempting to brace and stabilize their upper body with their hands while they stand or sit is a sure fire sign of an over firing QL.
- Being in an upright or sitting posture makes the pain worse but most individuals will experience pain with any movement.
- Rolling from side to side after laying face up for some time is extremely painful
- If you’re aware of one leg being genetically shorter than the other and you’re suffering from back pain you could be a good candidate for a tight QL
In my experience, I have not been able to find a definitive cause for a tight Quadratus Lumborum. A lot of diagnosed tight QL’s stem from a number of different things. Over tight quads and weak hamstrings along with a number of different muscle imbalances in the hip. An unbalanced hip can really set the QL off. The thing is if you’re not training in a way that will repair that imbalance than simply mashing on a tight QL won’t bring you lasting relief. You have to look at the root cause.
To close out this post I want to give you my go to Quadratus Lumborum stretches. I put together a video showing you exactly what I do from beginning to end when I was treating a tight QL myself.
Before you dive in! I put together some private content with 3 more of my best QL release techniques along with a printable, easy to follow release protocol.
Before you get too far into the videos below, where can I send the bonus QL content? Let me know!
First up is the most important point you don’t want to miss:
You always want to break up the muscle before you start stretching it. Using a lacrosse ball or tennis ball will help with just that. Check out the video below!
Spend about 5 minutes on both sides before moving on to the stretching techniques.
The Lacrosse Ball that I used in this video is one that I actually picked up from a used sports store. To my understanding, there isn’t a lot of used sports equipment stores around these days so I linked up a source that I have purchased from myself to make your search a bit easier. The link is an affiliate link so if you don’t get down with those feel free to go another route.
Now that you’re all warmed up, you can start playing with some of these stretches. When doing these stretches for your tight QL keep these 4 things in mind.
- Don’t do anything that causes you more pain
- Don’t “push through” any pain
- Go into each position slow and controlled. You should be able to breathe normal during the entire stretching position.
- Hold these positions from 1-2 minutes at a time
My favorite one is the stretch at the end so be sure to try that one out!
If you found value in this, would you do me one huge favor? Share it with the people who you influence. You could really help them out!
Thanks for stopping by!
Looking for something a bit more advanced than what you read here?
I sent out a private lesson on 3 more QL release techniques to my online students. I am happy to send it your way.