The Quadratus Lumborum (QL) is a deep low back muscle known to refer pain to the low back when tight . The QL muscle's main functions are to side bend, stabilize the spine, and maintain pelvis orientation during activity. In a nutshell, the QL muscle holds the lower spine upright. QL muscle pain can occur in active and sedentary individuals for different reasons - with the same result of pain felt in the lower back.
Quadratus Lumborum (QL) Muscle
QL Muscle Pain in Active Folks
The QL muscle is essential for performance in high impact activities. The QL helps stabilize the spine, which is a critical function in sports. Quadratus Lumborum also keeps the spine neutral and sturdy when carrying uneven load, side bending, and performing athletic movement. Athletes in football, basketball, and hockey likely have very strong QL muscles. QL muscle pain can arise when the stress placed on the QL exceeds its capacity, and it is forced to lock up or spasm to protect the spine from injury. This can happen when an athlete lifts too much, cuts too quickly, or trains longer than their QL has stamina.
The result of a QL muscle injury in athletes is a tensed, spasmed QL. A spasmed Quadratus Lumborum is a great short term solution to spinal cord injury prevention, but it is very annoying in the weeks post spasm when the QL is still tight and causing pain.
QL Muscle Pain in Sedentary Folks
The QL muscle pain mechanism is different, but equally painful in sedentary folks. In the absence of perfect posture, the QL muscles are taxed constantly when we sit in chairs. This happens because the lower back tends to round when sitting - which stretches and places pressure on the QL muscles.
Just like in the active QL muscle pain example, at some point the stress on the QL and low back is greater than what the muscles can take. The Quadratus Lumborum can tense up or develop trigger points to increase the tension on the muscle and prevent spinal cord injury. This is a nice short term solution to prevent spinal injury, but it is painful and constricting long term.
Additional QL Muscle Pain Triggers
- Sitting with your wallet in your back pocket - create a QL muscle imbalance where one side is tighter than the other
- Carrying uneven loads like chairs, boxes, suitcases - Quadratus Lumborum works its hardest during these feats
- Lifting an object outside your capacity - see Lower Back Pain From Lifting
QL Muscle Pain Relief
There are 3 components to QL muscle pain relief. If you are experiencing QL muscle pain yourself, you may need to work on just one or all 3 portions to find relief.
1. Release - Targeted massage therapy is a great first line of defense against QL muscle pain and tightness. If done correctly, this will break up any trigger points and tightness that contribute to your QL muscle pain. For Quadratus Lumborum muscle release, there is no better tool to use than the QL muscle release device QL Claw. QL Claw was designed to release the 5 muscles that contribute to low back pain, and Quadratus Lumborum is first on the list.
2. Stretch - After effective massage and release, the body will be a lot more open and able to perform a QL stretch. This is due to QL trigger points and tightness maintaining a constant tension on the muscles, making stretch difficult and restricted. Once the tension is removed with massage, stretching can provide increased range of motion in a short QL.
3. Strengthen - After your QL muscle pain is relieved and you are feeling loose, you will want to strengthen the muscle to prevent falling back into injury in the future. A few exercises that are great for QL strengthening are suitcase carries (one arm farmer's carries), side planks, and side bends.
Your QL muscle pain relief journey begins with QL Claw, check it out at the link below!
 Donnelly, Joseph M. Travell, Simons & Simons Myofascial Pain and Dysfunction: the Trigger Point Manual. 3rd ed., Wolters Kluwer Health, 2019.