Take a hike, low back pain!

Muscle of the Month: Quadratus Lumborum – the hip hiker

Low back pain: we’ve all experienced it at least once in our lives. That nagging stiffness, inability to move, and dull ache can put the best of us in a bad mood, or worse, at home in bed. Low back pain can be cause by MANY factors. Muscle, joint, and fascial imbalances all tend to play a large role; one major muscle that can cause low back pain is the quadratus lumborum.

QL - Ottawa massage blogNo, it’s not a Harry Potter magic spell. The quadratus lumborum, or QL, is one of your low back muscles that is tucked very neatly between your hip and the last rib. With one on each side of the spine, the QL, especially when tight, can affect many areas of the body.

Actions: When one QL contracts: laterally flex torso, elevate hip (hip hike).  When both QLs contract: extension of low back (back bend), stabilization of ribs during forced expiration.

Common pain culprit: Sitting for extended periods of time and a hunched back; also prolonged hiking up of the hip.

As we sit, we put the QLs into a constant contraction, since our lower postural muscles (the spinal erectors) are turned off. With constant contraction, the QL begins the vicious cycle of chronic pain: decreased blood flow to muscle, then fascial adhesions, then muscle spasms. Hunching forward further exaggerates this, as it puts an imbalanced load on our postural spinal erectors and increases the need for a contracted QL to support the change in centre of gravity. Low back pain is the outcome of this over-contracted QL.

Elevated right hip

Habitual elevation or “hiking” of the hip can also cause tissue shortness on the elevated side. Daily activities such as carrying a baby can contribute to this type of imbalance.

The fix: Muscle testing to reveal the imbalance. Strengthening of postural muscles. Stretching of QL. Massage and heat for chronic dull pain.

Next time you come in with low back pain, inquire about the QL with your RMT. They can help determine if this is the affected muscle and what you can do for it.

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