How the flank muscles affect low back and hip pain

If you have low back and hip pain, did you know that posture can reveal a great deal about the potential causes of your low back or hip pain?  Posture is a mental and physical landscape of neuromuscular compensations and adaptations to your life.  Have you ever noticed that perhaps one of your hips is higher than the other or that one shoulder is lower than the other shoulder or that you feel twisted?  If this is the case, then your body is compensating and adapting to some dysfunctional area and muscle imbalance.

The quadratus lumborum is a common muscle to be affected in people with low back and hip pain.  It is a deep back muscle on either side of your flank.  The quadratus lumborum can hike your hip up and bend your low back sideway.  It can also assist other back muscles to extend your low back.  Low back and pelvis dysfunctions from bad posture can cause one quadratus lumborum to be weak and the other compensated quadratus lumborum to be too strong and tight.

A common cause of low back and hip pain is quadratus lumborum trigger points, fibrosis and myofascial restriction.   Here are a few ways that you can evaluate your left and right quadratus lumborum:

  1. Perform a right sided plank for 20 seconds and then 20 seconds on the left side. Make that you don’t turn or twist your shoulder or hip while doing the side plank. Keep the torso straight.  If you have difficulty maintaining a left sided plank for 20 seconds, then the left quadratus lumborum is weak.  The weakened quadratus lumborum may also cause pain during the side plank.
  2. Stand in front of a mirror with your feet together. Now raise both arms overhead.  Observe the spacing between your pelvis and rib cage on each side.  The side that has a weak quadratus lumborum will have more space between your pelvis and rib cage.
  3. Stand in front of a mirror with your feet together again. Now bend your body sideway to the left and to the right with your arms overhead.  Observe how far you can bend your body sideway.  The side that bends the least during sideway bending is likely the side of weak quadratus lumborum.

If you suspect that the quadratus lumborum is weak, does this mean that you should start to strengthen it with some exercise?  Not necessary.  There has to be a reason why one quadratus lumborum is weak while the other becomes too strong and tight in the first place.  If you start strengthening or stretching the quadratus lumborum without knowing why it was weakened, overactive or tight, then you’re not addressing the source of the low back and hip pain.

Once the reasons for quadratus lumborum weakness, overactive and tightness are identified and treated and you’re cleared to engage in rehab exercises,  here are a few simple and effective strengthening exercises for the quadratus lumborum:

  • The ipsilateral crawling which you can YouTube for demonstration
  • The single-leg-stance on your back is performed as follow: Let’s say that your left quadratus lumborum is weak.  Lie on your back with arms overhead and legs straight.  Brings the left leg into hip-flexion, single-leg-stance position and holds the position for 5 seconds; then lowers back to the ground and repeats 4 times.  Make sure the right knee passes the waist midline, and it’s ok to bend your right knee a little if your hamstrings are tight.
  • The standing hip hike. Hike your left hip up toward your left shoulder and lower the hip back to normal, neutral position.  Make sure that you don’t bend the torso while doing the hip hike.  Do 3 sets of 10 repetitions.

Thanks for reading.  🙂

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