Does the QL Muscle cause hip pain? Innocent until proven guilty!

chronic hip pain lower back pain ql muscle Mar 13, 2023

Ah, the infamous quadratus lumborum muscle aka the “QL muscle.” So misunderstood. So wrongfully accused.

This innocent muscle in the abdominal wall is routinely blamed for hip and lower back pain. But does the QL muscle deserve all this bad press?

Is the QL muscle really the sneaky culprit behind your chronic hip or lower back pain?

Today, I will defend the QL muscle. But not because it is some super-muscle that doesn’t contribute to chronic pain patterns.

Quite the opposite. It’s because no one muscle is responsible for chronic pain - whether it is hip pain or lower back pain.

Putting all the blame on one muscle - whether it’s the QL, the glutes or the hamstrings - is an overly simplified and reductionist way of looking at the human body.

The body is complex. Pain is complex. But feeling better does not have to be.

In this article, I will explain why being hyper-focused on an apparently weak or tight QL muscle will not help you get out of pain. And I will share a smarter and simpler way to start feeling better TODAY.

The QL Muscle - Anatomy and Function

Most of the top searches for the QL muscle on Google give confusing explanations of its anatomy and function. I will avoid doing that here. 

Let’s keep it simple, shall we? Because most of us don’t want a Ph.D in anatomy or sports medicine.  

The QL muscle is essentially a muscle in the abdominal wall. It is not one of the “showy” muscles that make you look jacked though. 

It’s located DEEP in this area’s soft tissue and connects to the ribs and lower back. 

The function of the QL muscle is up for debate. Physiopedia indicates that the muscle helps the lumbar spine extend and the trunk tilt laterally. [Source 1]

In other words, the QL muscle helps the low back arch and the body tilt to the side (i.e., lateral flexion). 

But Physiopedia also acknowledges that studies fail to confirm how much the QL muscle is actually responsible for these movements compared to other surrounding muscles. [Source 1]

This brings up the main point for this article. It’s not just the QL muscle that matters when troubleshooting our pain but all of the muscles that surround the QL as well. 

The Importance of the QL Muscles and the Muscles Surrounding them

The QL Muscle is one of many muscles that affect how the pelvis, ribs and lower back move. This part of the body is collectively known as the lumbo-pelvic-hip complex.

I like to think of this area of the body as our “command center.” It initiates all the movements we make on a daily basis.

Whether it’s low intensity like walking or high intensity like sprinting. It is this command center that ensures our movements are fluid, efficient and comfortable.

When there is balance and function in the command center, our bodies move and feel better.

When there is a lack of balance and function in the command center, we might experience pain and discomfort. Our movements will feel “off."

But there is no way to know for certain whether discomfort in the command center is due to a weak or tight QL muscle.

That is because other surrounding muscles like the transverse abdominus, psoas or iliacus for example can also be responsible for the discomfort. 

We can just as easily find articles on the internet that blame these other surrounding muscles for our chronic hip or low back pain.

There are many muscles in the command center. And there are even more articles on the internet blaming these muscles for pain.

So what do we do instead? If you can’t blame the QL muscle for your pain, what are you supposed to do?

The QL Muscle’s Affect on Hip and Lower Back Pain

There is an important concept that I share with all of the people I work with. The area that hurts is rarely the problem.

Many people believe that if they identify which muscle, joint or tendon is located in the area of discomfort, they’ll get closer to fixing their pain.

But this is simply not true. And it is a reason I believe so many people dig themselves into deeper holes.

The body does not work one muscle or one joint at a time. It works holistically. It constantly transfers energy and tension throughout the body in ways that create efficient movement.

If one muscle is weak then the body will ask another muscle to pick up the slack. If one joint cannot move well, it will ask another joint to move instead.

The body is sending signals of discomfort in an area of the body - like the QL area - but that does not mean that there is something WRONG with this area of the body.

Discomfort in the body means there is some lack of balance or function in our movement. But it doesn’t mean that the lack of function is in the exact area of discomfort.

Makes sense?

Think about a scale that’s out of balance. If we want to bring the side that’s higher down, we don’t just push and shove that side down. It will just come right back up.

We have to take weight off the heavier side. This is the root cause for the lack of balance.

There is a similar phenomenon happening in our bodies. There is a “heaviness” somewhere in the body that we need to balance out.

Stretching and Strengthening the QL Muscle and Surrounding Area

Alright. We now understand that the QL muscle is just an innocent muscle that has a bad reputation. We no longer want to bully it.

We recognize that no one muscle is responsible for our hip and lower back pain. And instead, we need to build balance and function in the entire body to feel better.

But HOW do we do that? What exercises will help get us there?

Although it’s important to build balance in the ENTIRE body, I’m going to share two exercises with you today that primarily focus on the command center.

These two exercises help bring the pelvis, low back and ribs into better alignment. Better alignment = better function = less pain and discomfort.

Take a little walk before and after you do the exercises to see if you notice any improvements in how your body feels.

Closing Thoughts

Moral of the story? If you want to feel better, zoom out and look at the big picture. 

Getting fixated on the QL muscle will probably do more harm than good. That's why I recommend focusing on how all the muscles and joints in the command center function.

This will not only address your current symptoms but it will also help build a stronger and more resilient body. 

A body that can do what you want it to, when you want it to.  And that's what most of us really want isn't it?