Identifying the Cause of Quadratus Lumborum Pain

Medically reviewed by William Morrison, MD on June 1, 2017Written by Emily Cronkleton on June 1, 2017

What is the quadratus lumborum muscle?

The quadratus lumborum (QL) is the deepest abdominal muscle. It’s located in your lower back on either side of the lumbar spine. It starts at your lowest rib and ends at the top of your pelvis. It’s common to have pain here because you use this muscle to sit, stand, and walk.

The QL is one of the prime sources of lower back pain and can have an effect on your physical well-being.

What causes quadratus lumborum pain?

Pain in the quadratus lumborum can be due to overuse, stress, and strain. Sometimes muscles cause pain and stiffness when they’re weak or too tight.

Activities such as sitting for long periods of time can reduce blood flow to an area, especially in the QL and surrounding areas. Pain can also result from repetitive motions and weak back muscles, which lead to poor posture.

All of these factors can make you twist, bend, or lift improperly, which creates more tension. It can also lead to your QL becoming too tight if it has to overcompensate to stabilize your spine and pelvis. Pain in this area can also be due to accidents and unequal leg lengths.

Trigger points and pain

A trigger point is an area of your body that may produce pain when it’s stimulated. Trigger points are made up of stressed or injured muscles that cause pain and tightness. Quadratus lumborum trigger points may be to blame for a deep ache in your lower back or a stabbing pain in your hips or pelvis. They can also be the reason you might feel sharp pain when the QL contracts while you’re coughing or sneezing.

How is quadratus lumborum pain diagnosed?

Consult your doctor if you think you’re experiencing quadratus lumborum pain. They can help you get to the root of your pain. They can also determine if it’s related to any underlying health issues.

You may have to perform certain physical activities and describe the nature of your pain. They can work with you to come up with a treatment plan involving some type of bodywork. They will also recommend that you do self-care and home treatment.

Can quadratus lumborum pain cause complications?

If you don’t treat QL pain, it can result in stress to other areas of your body. Once your body compensates to support one part that isn’t symmetrical, additional imbalances and misalignments can occur. The pain can become more severe and spread to other areas of your body.

Pain in the quadratus lumborum may potentially cause:

  • pain in your hip joints, buttocks, and thighs
  • pain in your sacroiliac joint
  • low back pain
  • abdominal pain

How is quadratus lumborum pain treated?

You can treat quadratus lumborum in several ways. Applying heat and ice can help to reduce pain and inflammation. Your doctor may also recommend you take some type of painkiller or muscle relaxant. Trigger point injections are another option.

The following therapies may help ease your pain, so long as you choose a certified professional:

  • massage therapy, such as myofascial release
  • physical therapy
  • chiropractic treatment
  • Rolfing
  • acupuncture
  • yoga therapy

See your doctor if your back pain doesn’t subside after two weeks of home treatment. Seek care immediately if any of the following apply to you:

  • history of cancer
  • osteoporosis
  • steroid use
  • drug or alcohol abuse

Also seek immediate care if you experience:

  • new bowel or bladder problems
  • fever
  • pain that’s the result of a fall or other injury
  • pain that spreads down either of your legs and extends below the knees
  • weakness, numbness, or tingling in either leg
  • unexplained weight loss

What is the outlook for quadratus lumborum pain?

QL pain that is treated in the early stages can usually be managed and improve over time. It could be a long process to fully heal this area of your body. But as long as you take steps to get better, you should see improvement. Try to stay as healthy as possible, and eliminate the sources of your pain.

How is quadratus lumborum pain prevented?

You can prevent quadratus lumborum pain by keeping your body as fit as possible. Stay in shape and consider seeing some type of movement therapist to keep your body aligned. Treat pain as soon as it begins so that it doesn’t get any worse.

Perform movements that focus on stretching and strengthening the area. Side bends and stretches are important to release back tension and engage the side muscles. Do exercises that will lengthen the space between your ribs and pelvis. Yoga, Pilates, and tai chi are effective core strengtheners. Walking at a moderate pace can also help to ease back pain.

Other tips for preventing quadratus lumborum pain:

  • Make it a point to maintain good posture while standing, sitting, and driving.
  • Ensure you’re lifting heavy objects properly.
  • Sleep in a position that’s conducive to reducing back pain.
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