How to Get Rid of Iliocostalis Lumborum Pain

In this post: If you have back pain and haven’t heard of the iliocostalis lumborum, read up! This frequent culprit of pain is often overlooked. Here’s how to get rid of iliocostalis lumborum pain. 

a pin that features a drawing of the iliocostalis lumborum muscle

When you’ve got low back pain, you want to find out what is causing it so you can work on feeling better. For me, I think of a lineup of possible muscular culprits similar to the lineup in the movie, The Usual Suspects.

With low back pain, lots of people tend to think that the quadratus lumborum is the likely culprit. It also could possibly be the erector spinae. However, the iliocostalis lumborum should not be ignored.

It’s near the quadratus lumborum, and the muscles functions are so similar that iliocostalis lumborum dysfunction is often misdiagnosed as quadratus lumborum issues.

Essentially, the iliocostalis lumborum is the overlooked cause, the muscular Kaiser Soze in your low back. Here’s more about the iliocostalis lumborum pain and how to get rid of it.

If you have hip or back pain that’s preventing you from living the life your dreams, I have great news for you–I have created a course to teach you how to permanently ditch your pain. Enrollment for Spinal Rejuvenation is currently open!

Iliocostalis Lumborum Location

According to Flash Anatomy Muscles Flash Cards, the iliocostalis lumborum originates on the “anterior surface of a broad and thick tendon which originates from the sacrum, spinous processes of the lumbar and 11th and 12th thoracic vertebrae, and from the medial lip of the iliac crest.”

That seems pretty complex, so let’s break it down.

a drawing of the iliocostalis lumborum muscle
Thanks to Kenhub for the image.

First, notice that there are three spots of origin for this muscle. One spot of origin is a tendon that comes off the sacrum (tailbone).

Another spot is the bony spine on the back of your lumbar and 11th and 12th thoracic vertebrae. This means that all five of the lumbar vertebrae, as well as the two lowest thoracic vertebrae, are points of origin.

The final spot is the inside rim of the back of your pelvis.

The iliocostalis lumborum inserts on the inferior borders of the lower 6 or 7 ribs. This means that it inserts on vertebrae T-5 or T-6 through T-12. In this case, “inferior borders” refers to the very bottom edge of these particular ribs.

Iliocostalis Lumborum Function

When both sides of the iliocostalis lumborum act at the same time, they extend the spine. As your head moves behind the line of your spine, you move into spinal extension.

This is common when you reach back to stretch in your chair. Also, Cobra pose is a popular yoga pose for spinal extension.

However, when only one side of the iliocostalis lumborum fires, it laterally flexes the spine. Lateral flexion is when your body bends straight to the side.

For example, if you were sitting in a chair and wanting to set something on the floor beside you, you would laterally flex and set down the item.

In that example, you are bending and moving your rib cage toward your pelvis. Lateral flexion works the other way, too.

You can also move your pelvis toward your ribs. One of the best examples of this type of movement is using your hip to help boost a bag of groceries or a child.

Perhaps you have already noticed that this sounds an awful lot like the quadratus lumborum. The muscles are neighbors and perform similar actions.

It has also been noted that the two are somewhat of partners in crime. Frequently, if one of the muscles is acting up, the other one will be, too. It is also possible that, because the quadratus lumborum is more well-known, it gets blamed for ilicostalis lumborum dysfunction.

Iliocostalis Lumborum Common Dysfunction

Unfortunately, the iliocostalis lumborum can be injured simply by performing its standard actions. A reach backward or a simple bend to the side can cause the muscle to spasm and create pain and dysfunction. No matter the cause, the result is iliocostalis lumborum pain.

Spinal Rejuvenation can teach you how to permanently relieve your hip and/or back pain from the privacy of your own home!

Restoring or Maintaining Iliocostalis Lumborum Health

As always, I recommend that if you have any sort of pain, you should consult your physician. Your doctor can order the proper tests, medication, and therapy to help relieve your pain.

However, if you want to do some exercises at home to help strengthen and stretch the iliocostalis lumborum, I have a couple of suggestions. Before you begin, you should be aware that tightness = weakness. This is why you will want to both strengthen and stretch this muscle.

I recommend Triangle pose as an exercise to improve your lateral flexion. Think of other exercises and poses when you bend to the side. These are all probably good for strengthening and stretching.

For example, Side angle pose, Gate pose, and the Infinity pose are all good side flexion yoga poses. Mermaid and Side bend (or Side bend prep) are good Pilates exercises.

To improve your spinal extension, you can use any number of yoga poses or Pilates exercises. For example, you could do: 

Make sure to draw your belly button to your spine to help support your low back as you work.

All of the above poses and exercises will help you strengthen your iliocostalis lumborum. However, you still need to stretch it. To stretch this muscle, you should do the opposite of these exercises.

Interestingly enough, with side flexion exercises, you are strengthening one side while stretching the other. So, as long as you do both sides, you’ll have done some strengthening and stretching for the iliocostalis lumborum.

The opposite of the spinal extension exercises is spinal flexion. Spinal flexion exercises and poses include (but are not limited to):

More Information on the Iliocostalis Lumborum

I consulted my Flash Anatomy Muscles Flash Cards. If you really enjoy anatomy and want a tool to help you locate specific muscles correctly, I highly recommend these flash cards. I turn to them any time a client comes in with pain. When you purchase these flash cards from the link above, I earn a small commission.

Also, the image that I used above came from Kenhub.com, a leader in anatomy. This is a great website for learning more about your body, and they often have some of the best images of your muscles. Here’s the link to their information about the iliocostalis lumborum.

If you have hip or back pain that’s preventing you from living the life your dreams, I have great news for you–I have created a course to teach you how to permanently ditch your pain. Enrollment for Spinal Rejuvenation is currently open!

What do you do to get rid of back pain? Let us know in the comments below.

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About Sarah Stockett

Hi! I'm Sarah, and I'm a certified Pilates and yoga instructor with a passion for pain relief. When I'm not working with clients, I'm researching the best ways to get rid of pain. Do you want to learn how to practice yoga and Pilates safely in your own home? Or, do you want to know all my tips and tricks for pain relief? Join my mailing list and receive free goodies to help you.

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