If you suffer from lower back pain, you'll already be quite familiar with the quadratus lumborum muscle. One of the best ways to treat and prevent quadratus lumborum pain is to perform regular strengthening and stretching exercises to increase mobility and support the spine.
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Meet Your Quadratus Lumborum
Before you hop on a yoga mat and start doing exercises, it's helpful to understand exactly where the muscle is, what it does and how exercises can help. An integral part of your core, the quadratus lumborum, or QL, is a deep muscle located on either side of your spine in your lower back. It extends from the bottom ribs to the hip bones, and acts as an antagonist, or opposing, muscle to the abdominals.
The QL plays a crucial role in postural stabilization and acts in combination with other core muscles of the abdomen and hips to keep you upright and transfer forces between the upper and lower body, according to the National Council on Strength & Fitness. The core muscles are what allow you to bend forward, back and side to side and rotate through the torso, explains the American Council on Exercise.
Reduced strength in these muscles not only makes it difficult to do daily tasks, but it also affects your ability to exercise and play sports. Weakened core muscles increase the risk of injury due to strain and overuse, and the National Institutes of Health reports that people with weak back and abdominal muscles are more likely to have back pain than others.
Lower back pain can have many causes. While developing a strong core is always a good thing, be sure to speak with your doctor or physical therapist before doing any exercises for your back pain. Some quadratus lumborum exercises may be contraindicated in certain situations.
Quadratus Lumborum Exercises
Both QL muscle strengthening exercises and stretches are important parts of building a healthy lower back. Strong muscles help support the spine, while flexible muscles enable better movement. Include both in your regular workout.
Any exercises that target the lower back will work the QL. Exercises that target the obliques — the muscles along the sides of your torso – will also work the QL.
Move 1: Bridge
- Lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor.
- Extend your arms alongside your body.
- Contract your core and glutes, and press through your feet to lift your hips until they are in line with your knees.
- Hold the position for three deep breaths, then release.
- Perform a total of 5 reps to start, and work your way up to 30, recommends the Mayo Clinic.
Move 2: Plank Pose
- Lie on the floor on your stomach.
- Prop yourself up on your elbows and tuck in your toes.
- Contract your core muscles and lift your hips so your body forms one straight line from head to heels.
- Keep your core contracted and don't let your hips sag or pike.
- Hold for 5 seconds, then release. Perform 3 to 5 reps. Work up to holding for 30 seconds.
Move 3: Superman
- Lie on the floor on your stomach with your arms extended above your head.
- Contract your core and lift your head, arms and legs off the floor a few inches. Keep your arms and legs straight and your upper arms in line with your ears.
- Hold for 3 seconds, then release. Repeat for a total of 5 to 10 reps.
Move 4: Tail Wag
- Kneel on all fours with a neutral spine.
- Slowly move your right hip toward your right rib cage, feeling compression in your right side and lengthening in your left side.
- Hold for a few seconds, then come back to center and perform on the left side.
- Repeat for a total of 10 to 15 reps on each side.
Move 5: Supine Rotational Stretch
- Lie on your back and bend your knees, placing your feet flat on the floor.
- Keep your shoulder blades on the floor as you drop your knees to one side.
- Hold for 5 to 10 seconds, then come back to center and repeat on the opposite side.
- Perform the stretch two to three times.
Move 6: Knees to Chest
- Lie on your back with both knees bent. Raise your right knee and grasp it with your hands just below the knee cap.
- Keeping your lower back on the floor, pull your knee into your chest. Contract your core muscles and press the length of your spine into the floor.
- Hold for 5 seconds, then return to the starting position. Repeat on the opposite side.
- Repeat the exercise, pulling both knees into your chest at once.
- Perform each part two to three times.
Move 7: Seated Lower Back Rotational Stretch
- Sit on a chair without arms with your feet flat on the floor. Cross your right leg over your left.
- Keep your hips stationary and rotate your torso to the right. Hook your left elbow outside your right knee and gently press against it to deepen the stretch.
- Hold for 10 seconds, then switch sides.
- Do 3 to 5 reps.
Read more: The Best Lower Back Exercises at Home
Benefits of Low-Impact Cardio
In a small study published in the Journal of Exercise Rehabilitation in October 2016, researchers examined the effects of an exercise program combining strength training and walking for overweight patients with chronic lower back pain. Participants were randomly assigned to a strength training group, a strength training and walking group or a control group.
After 12 weeks, the two groups that exercised both showed improvements in strength and reductions in pain compared to the control group. In addition, researchers found that the group who strength trained and walked had better results than the strength training-only group.
So, in addition to the above exercises, regular low-impact cardio exercise should be part of your program. According to a review published in Healthcare in June 2016, aerobic exercise promotes blood flow to the lower back area.
In the Journal of Exercise Rehabilitation study, participants in both strength training groups lost fat mass. Being overweight is a contributor to lower back pain, and researchers concluded that fat loss was one factor in the decreased pain and improvement of lumbar function.
- National Council on Strength & Fitness: "How Core Stabilization Translates to Sport Performance"
- American Council on Exercise: "Core Anatomy: Muscles of the Core"
- National Institutes of Health: "Low Back Pain Fact Sheet"
- Journal of Exercise Rehabilitation: "The Effects of Strength Exercise and Walking on Lumbar Function, Pain Level, and Body Composition in Chronic Back Pain Patients"
- Mayo Clinic: "Slide Show: Back Exercises in 15 Minutes a Day"
- American Council on Exercise: "Front Plank"
- American Council on Exercise: "Supermans"
- Berkeley University Health Services: "Low Back Pain"
- Healthcare: "A Systematic Review of the Effects of Exercise and Physical Activity on Non-Specific Chronic Low Back Pain"