QL Muscle Strengthening: Beat Low Back Pain

Quadratus lumborum pain

Your Quadratus Lumborum muscle (better knows as your QL muscle) can cause you all sorts of back pain and refer pain into your hip and glutes. Having weakness in your QL muscle can mean recurring and frustrating back pain that can cause way too much trouble

So following on from our previous article on how to treat the QL yourself through an easy muscle release, here is how to strengthen it up and beat low back pain.

Strengthen QLSo, what does your QL muscle do?

Easy, it comes from the top of your pelvis (the iliac crest) and attaches on to the bottom rib and the side of your spine. From there, it acts to help you extend backwards, bend to the side, bend forwards and can help in breathing.

So the QL does rather a lot. Not only that but because it attaches to all your lumbar vertebrae and your pelvis, when it goes into spasm, it can really pull on your spine and can also lift one side of the pelvis – Making it seem like your “back is out”

Strengthen Quadratus lumborumAnd you know what? The QL can be a real pain in the butt.

Literally. As with a lot of muscles in the body which cause you to feel pain elsewhere and not where the real issue is. The QL refers pain into the buttock and side of the hip, making it quite deceiving as to where the pain is actually coming from.

Symptoms of QL muscle dysfunction:

  • Deep, aching in the low back, often worse in sitting or standing
  • Pain with coughing and sneezing
  • Pain rolling to either side when lying on your back
  • Pain can refer to the groin and mimic sciatica symptoms
  • You may have one side of your pelvis lifted higher than the other

Strengthening exercises for the QL:

  1. Side plank

Level 1: Hold

Side plank QL strengthening

Build up your QL endurance by holding a side plank.

Aim for a one minute hold (this is the goal, you may not be able to do it straight away!)

Tip: don’t stick your bum out, tuck it in



Level 2: Leg lifts

Side plank leg raises

When you can hold a straight side plank comfortably for a minute, step it up.

Lift your hips up into a side plank but now lift your top leg up and down while holding the side plank.

Aim for 3 sets of 10 reps, but you may need to start with less reps!

Tip: don’t let your top leg come forward or toes point up.

2. One sided farmers carry

one sided farmers carry for QL strengthening

Here, the QL muscle on the opposite side to the weight you are carrying is working hard to keep you upright.

Hold onto a dumbbell or kettlebell in one hand and do some laps (e.g. 10 x 10m laps on each side)

Tip: try to stay upright!

And that’s it. Easy. Combine those few exercises into your workout at least 3 x weekly to improve the strength of your QL muscle and help beat back pain.

Looking for more? Download out Complete Low Back Self-Rehab Guide

Tip: This is a great stretch to help unload the low back!

8 thoughts on “QL Muscle Strengthening: Beat Low Back Pain”

  1. Thanks for this, I usually think about the obliques when doing side plank but this helps remind me what a great exercise it is for the QL as well and inspires me to do more.

    1. PhysioPrescription

      You are very welcome Kara and yes it great for the obliques too. Too often we strengthen the front and back and forget the lateral stability but side planks are a good one to sort that!

  2. Gregory Scott

    “Hold onto a dumbbell or kettlebell in one hand and do some laps (e.g. 10 x 10m laps on each side)”. What are laps?

    Thanks, Greg

    1. PhysioPrescription

      Hi Greg

      Sorry, I should have said “walk” some laps – Laps are technically a specific distance in running or walking where you perform a circuit or loops. In this case, 10, 10metre distances.

      I hope that clear that up, thanks for asking 🙂

  3. Hi I periodically experience what appears to be QL spasm. I work out and am incorporating the strengthening and muscle release you suggest. Thank you!
    When looking on line, the other “condition” that seems to have similar symptoms is “facet joint” problems. Is there a way to distinguish one from the other and does it even matter? I would love to be done with this recurring issue once and for all…otherwise I’m quite fit. Perhaps that is a reason to try and distinguish between the two. Thoughts? And thanks again!!

    1. PhysioPrescription

      Hi Diane – That is a great idea adding that into your workout.

      If you are unsure with a diagnosis then best to get it checked out by a physio but also remember that 85% of low back pain is non-specific and should respond to a good exercise programme and if not improving then some treatment should be sought.

  4. sprazer

    I have QL pain on my right side, I assume it’s because of it’s being used too much (abused) so I have to strenthen the QL on the leftside instead? please clarify

    1. PhysioPrescription

      Hi! No way, strengthen both sides for sure and particularly the sore side. When muscles get used and abused they tend to fatigue and shorten to protect themselves so to speak. This prolonged tensing/spasm makes them painful so strengthening the other side (left for you) will help the right side relax as often does when working the antagonist but also using the sore muscle through range will help it relax as well as you are normalizing movement and helping it desensitize. Try some side plank raises (a normal side plank but rather than holding position, raise your pelvis up and down in reps and sets), this often helps the muscle pain ease as you are using it through the range, helping it feel normal, length and relax. Hopefully, that makes sense!

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