Quadratus Lumborum and Mindful Back Health in Yoga
Low back pain is an increasing issue in our society dominated by poor posture, sedentary lifestyles, and chronic sitting patterns. The source of low back pain can vary, but a great deal of these muscular dysfunctions emanate from the quadratus lumborum muscles.
Most of us are quite familiar with the erector spinae muscles that travel from the hip crest/sacrum to various points up the vertebrae and ribs. These muscles function primarily as extensors of the back. Few people (including yoga teachers) are aware of the all-important quadratus lumborum muscles that are located deep toward the erector spinae.
The quadratus lumborum muscles sit on either side of the vertebrae. They originate on the iliac crest (hip bone) and insert on the transverse processes of the lumbar vertebrae and the 12th (last) rib.
When both sides contract, they extend the spine (and/or depress the ribcage from behind). When only one side contracts, the spine flexes laterally and/or elevates the ilium (hip) on that same side. In forced expiration, the quadratus lumborum will fix the 12 ribs.
When Back Pain Can Occur
Dysfunction and low back pain can settle into the quadratus lumborum under a few conditions:
- If the erector spinae are weak or inhibited (as they often are in chronic seated postures), the quadratus lumborum attempts to take up the slack and loading in back extension and spinal stabilization leading to overall muscle fatigue.
- If muscle imbalances build up across the pelvis (e.g., tight hip flexors), the lower vertebrae can shift into chronic excessive curvature (lordosis), which will shorten and weaken the quadratus lumborum and erector spinae.
- If poor posture and upper body muscle tension forms across the chest and shoulders, rounded-back posture (kyphosis) will pull the rib cage up and away from the hip crest. This places stress and drag on the quadratus lumborum and portions of the erector spinae.
- The deep gluteals (gluteus medius and gluteus minimus) are responsible for hip abduction and pelvic stabilization in walking and other gait patterns. If these deep gluteal muscles are weak and inhibited, the quadratus lumborum and tensor fascia latae have to compensate to stabilize the pelvis.
- Some physical experts have also found that tight hip adductor muscles (groin) can inhibit (through reciprocal inhibition) the gluteus medius muscles. As mentioned above, the quadratus lumborum muscle may compensate for the gluteus medius muscle’s lack of activity and pelvic stabilization.
How to Keep Your Back Healthy with Yoga
Understanding that the dysfunction residing in the quadratus lumborum is often the result of dysfunction and tension imbalances coming from other muscles, here are some initial approaches to maintaining health of the quadratus lumborum:
- Develop a strategy to maintain fluid balance in upper and lower body posture patterns to avoid chronic hip flexor tightness, back extensor tension, and loss of natural vertebral curvature and pelvic placement
- Stretch the chest, front of the shoulders, hip flexors, groin, and lower back frequently
- Strengthen back extensors and overall core stabilizers
- Strengthen and stretch deep gluteals to unload unnecessary engagement of the quadratus lumborum
- Engage in proper therapeutic treatments when discomfort and pain develop
Need help with yoga for back pain? Sign up for our Yoga Foundations Guide with Rodney Yee & Colleen Saidman Yee!
Do These Yoga Poses for Back Pain
Here are some basic, accessible stretches readily prescribed to restore and maintain flexibility in the quadratus lumborum muscles:
When aiming to stretch the quadratus lumborum muscles and other lower back musculature, I would personally recommend avoid using forward bends like Uttanasana (Standing Forward Bend), Paschimottasana (Seated Two Leg Forward Bend) and other similar poses.
Due to the nature of intervertebral disc compression in spinal flexion, these types of forward bends would be better served to actually involve engagement of the back extensors and transverse abdomen in order to extend the spine, shift the ‘flexion’ into the hips, unload the lower vertebrae and protect against disc compression.
How Yoga Can Help Improve Your Skin
The skin on someone’s face is one of the first things we notice, so it’s only natural that we would desire healthy, beautiful skin. Sadly enough, our skin is also one of the first things to be affected by poor diet and stress. Beyond just covering up with makeup, or religiously applying face creams at night, there are other things that can be done to improve the look and feel of your skin.
Yoga is one of the most effective things we can do to help our skin to stay beautiful and glowing. There are a variety of different poses that will work to your advantage, each with different benefits, but first: what really causes your skin problems?
Skin problems and their causes
Acne is the bane of many individuals – it always seems to be a problem. Luckily, it tends to heal itself and, if treated properly, will not leave any lasting scars.
Oftentimes, a person’s health history has a lot to do with the way his or her skin looks now. If they spent a lot of time outdoors without proper sun protection, or smoked frequently, these things will probably affect their skin negatively.
A poor diet can also cause poor skin: leading to more breakouts and excess oil that clogs pores.
Yoga’s healthy skin benefits
What is yoga actually doing to help improve my skin? Yoga works to improve digestion and circulation. When your body has better blood flow, it naturally produces glowing skin.
Practice doing poses like wind-relieving posture and bow pose, and try alternating nose breathing. All of these practices will aid in digestion. Glowing skin comes with a digestion system that is working properly.
Other yoga poses, such as child’s pose, fish pose and shoulder stand, are also extremely effective in increasing blood circulation throughout your entire body – especially the face and brain – thus stimulating the skin.
Skin loses its elasticity easily, so it is also helpful to do facial exercise which will strengthen and tone the muscles in your face. Stretch your lips and massage your jaw and brows to relieve stress. This practice will also help you to gain elasticity in your face.
What else can I do to get beautiful skin?
Of course yoga is not the only way to improve the look of your skin! In addition to practicing yoga everyday as a regular part of your routine, there are several other habits you can implement into your life so that you can enjoy radiant skin:
1. Drink more water than you think you need. Water flushes out toxins and gives your skin a healthy, lustrous glow.
2. Aim for eight hours of sleep a night. Although this sometimes seems impossible, due to the busyness of life, by being sufficiently rested, you will also look awake and alert. Over time, this will affect the health of your skin in a positive way.
3. Consider getting facials at a spa as part of your regular routine. Facials work to rid your skin of impurities and help to produce a youthful, healthy glow.
By starting to incorporate yoga into your everyday life, you will begin to notice a big difference in the way your skin looks and feels. It will look younger, more vibrant and have a nice glow to it that others will surely notice. When done in unison with the other tips I’ve mentioned, you will be well along your way to having younger-looking skin in just a few weeks!