The Best Way to Stretch The Quadratus Lumborum (QL)

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).

 

 

low back pain, QL stretch, Ql stretching, stretches for QL
Every back pain suffer should know how to stretch the Quadratus Lumborum.

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.

tight QL, QL stretches, back pain from QL
This guy doesn’t have a clue!

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.

  1. Don’t do anything that causes you more pain
  2. Don’t “push through” any pain
  3. Go into each position slow and controlled. You should be able to breathe normal during the entire stretching position.
  4. 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!

 

TTYS,

William

 

P.S

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.

Let me know where you would like it sent through here. 

 

 

34 comments on “The Best Way to Stretch The Quadratus Lumborum (QL)

  1. Hey gang.. first of all great job Will on sharing this information.. I’ve been searching for months trying to figure out my constant back pain and I am hoping it is QL related…at least I’m fairly certain after reading this site that a tight QL was the origin of my original pain before a crippling spasm I had that either tore stuff up more or introduced more problems.. I’ve tried the mashing and stretches and I can definitely feel it hitting a sore QL. I’m wondering if anyone has had associate pain in that area while trying to stretch out their hamstrings.. i.e. if I try to do a hamstring stretch on my right leg I feel a sharp pain come on on the right side of my back around the QL area.. I’m not sure if anyone has had similar symptoms or if really it’s something other than my QL.. another related problem that I get is some Altalgic lean after sitting for a while.. could this be a reaction to an injured QL? Or something else such as a disk herniation.. anyway let me know your thoughts.. I am finally set up for an MRI in 2 weeks that will hopefully clear up some of the mystery in my lower right back.

  2. 11 years ago. I experienced my first pain that was short but powerful. I was walking through the living room when it hit, it buckled my knees. I remember thinking WTF!!!…. I wish i knew then what i know now, and that is what was to come, within the next few days.
    I was in a real small bathroom. The kind of bathroom that your knees are only a few inches from touching the wall when seated on the toilet…. I had just finished pooping and when I went to stand up, my right side QL went into a full blown spasm that put me to the floor stuck between the wall and toilet in the opsite position my QL was trying to refer me to. It felt like my spine was being crushed I was stuck unable to even hollar for help due to the spasm not allowing me to take a deep enough of a breath.
    This continued until my QL finally gave in and allowed me to crawl out of between the bathroom wall and the toilet.
    That day changed the rest of my life. The spasm had torn the muscle fibers of my QL and partially pulled itself from my rib. Between then and now. I have had my QL spasm 20+ times, each time leaving me drawn over to oneside unable to shift my hips without instant extreme pain, telling me its not ready.
    Psychologically this back issue (spasms) have broke me. I live in fear of irritating my back every day. Suicide seems to be the only way I can truly free myself from this nightmare. I need help, I don’t know what else to do.

    1. Hey Jason,
      I am really sorry to hear about this struggle. First and foremost suicide is never the answer. I know ending the pain and fear is your number one priority but ending a life is never a good solution. Your life is way too valuable man!

      Have you ever been checked out? You need to meet with someone who can assess potential compensations. Your QL is over working for a reason. Typically it’s because the opposite muscle isn’t doing its job. There is more to this then stretching but learning to build confidence in your body and breaking some potential habits you may have.

  3. Hello William, I have followed your directives to avoid some movements within 2 hours after getting up, I have got early morning back stiffening. I experiment low back pain when I lie face up or down. It deseapears when I lay on one side.
    I am now 48, this morning pain and stiffening has been since I was 30. It goes out 1 hours later.
    I wonder if it worsen in the futur.
    I am doing your QL stretching exercises too , I guess my QL has some problem.
    I have been doind Mac gill¨s big 3 for years after a severe disk problem, I almost recovered tottally. As human nature behaves, I cut off big 3.
    Now, one year later , other pains returned. These QL are much weak than previous nerve root pains.
    I guess, the hardest to learn is what “not to do” at certain periors of the day.
    regards

  4. Oh, I also wanted to suggest that people find a good Yoga and/or Pilates routine. My family doctor had been imploring me to try it since I turned 30 and I wish I would have listed then. Yoga, at least to me, is really targeted at overall spinal health.

    Make sure to find a good beginner video if you’ve never done Yoga or Pilates before (they do exist). Do modifications if you can’t keep up with the instructor… Remember, they are Professionals and will be a lot more flexible than probably anyone reading this! And again, be constitent and patient to see the results.

  5. Just wanted to say thanks for the info. I’ve been dealing with small spasms and pins/needles in my calves for several months. I worked with a PT and learned that my low back muscles, in particular a tight QL, was to blame for pulling things out of alignment.

    I’ve found the child’s pose and door frame stretches to be most effective. Sometimes if I don’t stretch enough for several days and then suddenly try stretching again then I’m in more discomfort the following day.

    I’m learning 2 critical things to self-treatment… Consistency & patience! Remember, if you’re suffering from back pain it most likely is an accumulation of things over a period of Years that have finally caught with you. So don’t give up if you don’t get immediate or permanent relief. You’ll likely have good & bad days but if you stick with it and fix bad habits then over time you should find that you are trending better. Just remind yourself where you were before you started self-treamtment!

  6. After 20 years of dealing with sciatic pain from the hip to just under the buttock I have just understood that my QL and psoas muscles are to blame. I stubbornly set out to figure out on my own what was causing this unbearable and constant pain. From crossfit I learned how to use a lacrosse ball to loosen up knots and tights muscles so I started exploring and found the exact trigger points of my sciatic nerve pain.
    Hours of studying for a university exam 20 years ago, sitting hunched down and crossed legged, left leg on top of the right, spine curved with no back support on a hard, wooden foldable chair with an uneven seat have caused me years of pain and physical limitations. I want to know, now that I know what it is, after hundreds of misdiagnosises from all types of professionals in the medical field, how do I fix it.
    Can you help me help myself?

    1. Hey Anna,

      If I am understanding your question right, you’re asking now that you know how to treat these tight muscles how do you fix them (as in these tight muscles)? For starters, I would continue to do what you’re doing now as far as tissue release as long as it’s not causing more pain. I would also address your current issues such as posture, sitting, standing and bending to make sure that these things are not just corrected when you can remember but are turned into new habits. Pain relief is a cumulation of being in the correct/relief postures over time, just like back pain is a cumulation of poor postures over time. As you correct you movement and habits you can gently work the tissue release into the program to assist these muscles to continue to release.

  7. Thank you so much for this. My therapist has found my extremely painful QL’s. I have finally decided it was caused from sleeping on a 6″ pillow top mattress with a 2″ latex topper on top of that. I feel the stretch bestvwoth your child pose exercise.

  8. I have QL pain and S.I. joint pain on my right side.
    I found your stretching method (the last obe using the dooe flame to hold) is supet helpful.
    Love it and thanks for sharing.

  9. Hello,

    I was diagnosed by a chiropractor with a tight QL, It’s extremely painful when my husband tries massaging it out (both sides). I have had symptoms for about one year, how long should I expect before it completely loosens? It is better with massage and stretching, but always seems to come back, especially after exercise such as lunges. Also, could there be an underlying problem that is causing tight QL.

    1. There are a few things to look at when working on a tight QL.

      When it comes to working on the muscle I prefer to do it in this order Warm up/hot bath or shower – soft tissue release – stretching. Mixing this up could cause a stretch reacting where your muscles almost get tighter during or after you do these tissue work because it was prepared for the “attention”.

      Whats important is really trying figure out WHY the QL is tight. I think you know exactly how to treat the tightness but preventing the tightness is another aspect.

      You have to do an audit of your daily habits such as how often you sit or for how long you sit for.

      When it comes to lunges pay close attention to how extended your lower back is. Often times with forward walking lunges the depth causes us to arch our backs in hopes of keeping our chest out straight. Take a long hard look at your mechanics when it comes to squating or anything like that. If your anything like me I have to constantly fight the urge to over extend my lower back when doing any lower body exercises.

      I would also entertain taking lunges completely out and seeing how you do. Lunges are great but you may be at a point where they will only cause you irritation.

  10. I have QL pain on both sides and it radiates to my buttocks when sitting. When I use a heat belt or hot water bottle on my lower back the pain eventually goes. Why is this ? Should I then stretch my QL to try and resolve my tight QL ? Thanks

  11. Great post, could you help with my problem please? I have had QL pain for a few years now following the pain originally being in my groin. I think it happened when I didn’t warm up at the gym when lifting weights. I also need to pint out that I do a sit down job and have tight hamstrings – I cannot touch my toes. When I sit, my buttock hurts, or the actual muscle. I have had an MRI. XRAY. Nerve conduction tests, countless physio but to no avail. Sciatica has also been ruled out. But alas, when i heat the lower right side of my back the pain goes! The pain in my back and buttock mysteriously goes for a while, so what is happening here ? Is it muscle tightening that is released when it’s exposed to heat ? If so is this the best time to stretch it ? Hope you can help as I want to get back into the gym and start running again!!

  12. Hello,
    I have had severe hip pain and stiffness on both sides that often radiates down my legs for about four years. It’s sometimes hard to walk and it’s hard to find a comfortable sleep position. Last year, I my primary care physician referred me to an orthopedist. He took X-rays of my hips and spine. My hips were fine–no arthritis. I do, however, have a slipped disc, I think it’s the third one up. The orthopedist says the disc is pushing on a nerve and that’s what is causing the pain in my hips and legs. He gave me a non-addictive nerve pain med (Gabapentin) and told me to get physical therapy for my back. I still have yet to do the physical therapy. The pain med helps somewhat but I still have hip pain. When I complained about the hip pain, he said I have bursitis. He then gave me a topical NSAID gel for my hips. That helps quite a bit. I have noticed lately that there is tightness and some pain in my lower back. I take an aerobics class where we do aerobics, floor exercises, and Pilates. The stretching that we do after our exercises helps my lower back. I’ve also been going to a gym and working on a lower back strengthening machine. I don’t have a tennis ball but I will try your stretching exercises and see if they help.

    Also, I am an editor. It drives me crazy when I see “your” instead of “you’re” for “you are.” This is all over the internet. You have used “your” in several places for “you’re” above. Here is an example:

    “Now that your 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.”

    Should be “Now that you’re all warmed up….”

    It would please me very much if you would correct.
    Thank you!

    1. Hey Ginie!

      Thanks for reaching out. It sounds like your doctor has just been prescribing treatments to the symptoms and not the actual issue. The disc pressing on the nurve is not going to go away with nerve medication. The physical Therpay (if you find a good one) will help with correct the disc issue in your spine.

      About the spelling: Thanks for pointing that out! Helping people is my number 1 passion, grammar is definitely not. I will keep my eye out for those errors next time!

  13. Hmm.. very interesting. I’ve done some dragonboating in the past (4 years now) which I believe ignited the tightness.

    I’ve done the stretches for about 2 weeks now and I do feel a relief (that’s great!) but now it’s at a standpoint… so close.

    Any more tips? I could go into more detail in an email!

  14. I came across this article while searching the Internet for ideas on what might be happening with my back. I have had back pain for about 10 years and it always flares up after doing things like yard work or vacuuming the floor. I’m an avid runner, swimmer and cyclist but the pain was getting bad enough that flip turns in the pool were impossible and it was starting to affect my running. Over the years I have seen chiropractors, osteopaths, physical therapists and got limited relief. X-rays showed nothing except very minor arthritis. So I knew the problem was muscular.

    Recently the pain had increased when I was twisting, or turning over in bed, and when I sneezed the pain was frightening. Doing “child’s pose” was even painful, and that’s supposed to be the most relaxing pose. I was worried. That’s how I discovered this article. The first time I mashed the QL muscles with a field hockey ball and followed it up with the stretch in the door frame, it was like oiling a creaky door– it was almost instant relief. Since then, over the past month, I have continued to do the exercises and stretches on your site and they have helped so much. The other pose I do to “unstick” my back is the “happy baby” yoga stretch…that one in combination with these QL stretches have pretty much solved the back issues that have plagued me for years.

    So, thank you so much for this post.

  15. Hi

    I’M DESPERATE FOR HELP!

    4 years ago I had pain in my testicles and groin which moved to my lower back and has remained there. I have a tightness in the lower back where the QL is and when I sit down my buttock hurts, it kinda feels like I have no padding! I used to get sharp stabbing pains in my hip but I haven’t had them for a while.

    Recently I woke to feel similar pain in my left hip which is really frustrating and I get pain at the top of my pelvic bone where the QL is and I get random sharp stabbing pains in my left hip.

    For the original problem I have been under a consultant for 3.5 years and I have had MRI, X-RAY, NCT and countless amounts of physio but no one has fixed it and arguably its got worse.

    I am currently waiting to go and see my consultant after another failed physio course.

    I have been seeing an osteopath but he just massages which did help but then I used a Theracane to massage the tender bits, that when pressed in causes a sharp pain to go into my groin and lower abdo – weird. But yes the pain came back so I think the theracane was a bad idea or maybe I went in too hard.

    Anyways I do a sit down job which doesn’t help and I have tight hamstrings which I’m trying to fix as I can’t touch my toes…

    So basically I just wonder if the above can help me relive this pain as I really want to get back into the gym!

    Can bad form at the gym cause this ?

    1. Hey Dean!

      Thanks for reaching out and I am sorry for your frustration. Unfortunately, I can’t offer too much insight into your specific issue. That would have to be directed to your trusted professional. I can say that in my experience recovery should not be a painful thing. Yes, trigger release can be brutal but the treatment you have should bring relief. Pain like this normally isn’t something you should have to “work through”. I do believe that sitting has tremendous impact on our pelvic floor and its mechanics. So much that you could loose all sense of glute control simply from massive amounts of sitting and without any care. This may sound kinda funny but have you trained or tested your glutes before? They are some of the biggest hitters when it comes to your hips. Poor mechanics in these will force surrounding muscles to compensate.

      Going forward I would:
      1) Stand and move more during the day. Every 30 minutes get up and do some hip stretches and body weight squats.
      2) Work your glutes. Practice squeezing them while you sit and engage them while you stand.
      3) Continue to stretch, foam roll and trigger point release your hammies

      To answer you directly; Yes, bad form can cause a lot of different issues. That’s why it’s vital to shoot for perfection with EVERYTHING you do in the gym to ensure those bases are covered. All the trigger release in the world can’t fix the damage done by repeated poor mechanics. Fix mechanics first then go after the damage tissue.

      Hope this helps!

  16. thank you for this post was great! I did the tennis ball on the area you said it was so tight on both sides but worse on the left by far. Seeing an osteopath tomorrow to make sure im not missing anything but 90 percent sure its my QL. MRI was normal and im getting hip pain and groin pain and lower back pain that just wont go away.

    1. Ahh I think your on to something! Keep poking away and experimenting. listen to your body and get the doc to clear you from anything major (which it seems you have). Self treatment can be super easy with a unhappy QL, you just need to be patient and consistent! Thanks for stopping by!

  17. Good video. I was shown these stretches by my chiropractor years ago but kind of forgotten about them until now that I have this condition of tight QL’s again. Good job. Keep it up.

  18. I just came across this muscle. I’ve had pain in the iliac crest, hip, front of leg and knee for 4 years that had progressively gotten worse. It is now unbearable and have resorted to percocet for relief. I did roll around on a tennis ball tonight just above the crest. Omg severe leg and hip pain and now having sciatic like zing down the leg and right lower abdomen near hip (same side as pain) mri and xray shows normal per Hopkins. I do have a herniated disc 4mm left side though. Pain is on right, but pain was present prior to herniation. What’s your thoughts on this. Could this be the QL muscle. Worst pain of my life.

    1. Hmm, Interesting symptoms. It sounds like you have some over worked or over glued down anterior hip and leg muscles. The ball may have aggravated the area which gave you the sudden onset of pain. I remember when my lower back was at its worst and trying to stretch the area was terrible. Sometimes what is advertised as a good thing may not be the best at the moment. Before any more self treatment I always suggest getting someone to look at it. A lot of sports chiros do free consultations which will usually tell you what they found and how they would treat it. You can take the info and go home and start digging around on how you can do it yourself. Or you can get treated if you trust and know the specialist can guarantee your recovery from his/her treatment.

      I personally like to get the pros to give me there insight and take the treatment into my own hands. Just depends on your knowledge base.

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