If your low back is hurting or acting up, a good QL stretch might be just the trick you need to kiss your pain goodbye and find relief!

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It starts off as an occasional, manageable pain. Then, something happens.

Maybe you twist too far to the right. Or perhaps, you feel something seize when you use your hip to boost your slipping toddler. But maybe your only crime is that you sneeze when you wake up one morning.

Whatever action triggered your back pain, know that you are not alone.

According to research done by the American Chiropractic Association, “One-half of all working Americans admit to having back pain symptoms each year.”

And, although the causes of back pain are limitless and range from practical to completely absurd, the one thing all these cases have in common is that they’re caused by angry muscles.

Often, the QL is one of the main pain-causing muscles for the low back. Here’s more about what the QL does so you can use the following 5 best exercises for a QL stretch to relieve your back pain—no matter what caused it.

Related: If you’re searching for QL stretches because you’re trying to figure out how to do some effective DIY back pain relief, check out my online course, Spinal Rejuvenation. You’ll learn everything you need to know to relieve hip and low back pain from the privacy of your own home.

You don’t have to wonder what you need to do to get rid of your pain. Download your free copy of The Secret to IMMEDIATE + LASTING Pain Relief (No Matter Which Muscle Hurts) and learn this simple pain-relieving activity.

What does the QL do?

a drawing of the quadratus lumborum muscle
Thanks to Kenhub.com for the use of their image.

The QL, also known as the quadratus lumborum, is a muscle that helps connect the spine and the bottom of the rib cage to the pelvis.

The QL has three main functions. It helps you:

  1. bend straight to the side,
  2. extend back behind you, and
  3. stabilize your bottom rib during deep breathing.

But, when it doesn’t work correctly…

When this muscle doesn’t work correctly, it causes pain. The muscle spasms when asked to work. It cramps during easy tasks. And, it starts to feel like a wooden block lives in your back where muscle once was.

The cranky muscle gets tight to protect itself. Unfortunately, when this happens, it also becomes weak.

When you’re trying to get grumpy muscles to be healthy again, remember this simple equation: tightness = weakness

A tight muscle is also a weak muscle. So, in addition to getting a good QL stretch, you’re also going to need to find some quality strengthening exercises.

Related: 14 Powerful Quadratus Lumborum Exercises that Will Relieve Your Back Pain

The 5 Best Exercises for a QL Stretch

1. Hug your knees to your chest.

This is a simple way to get a 100% stretch for your QL.

Why I Love It: After you spend a little while in this stretch, I think you’ll know why I love it. Folks with back pain are often left wondering, Do I really have to stop?

a modification of Shell stretch with the knees toward the chest
  1. Lay down on your back. Let your low back press into the mat as you lift your legs.
  2. Hollow out your belly, and hug your thighs toward your chest. You can have your head lifted or on the floor.
  3. Hold here and focus breathing into your low back.

2. Cat stretch.

I like to think of this as the Mother of All QL Yoga Stretches. This beginner-appropriate exercise can help any person at any fitness level get a QL stretch.

Why I Love It: If your QL is acting up, you’ll notice your low back feels like a big, flat board. There’s no hiding a tight QL in this pose!

cat stretch is a great quadratus lumborum stretch
  1. Begin on your hands and knees with your hands under your shoulders, fingers spread, and your knees under your hips. Hug your belly button toward your spine to support your low back.
  2. Feel like you’re pushing the floor away from you.
  3. Stick your bottom out, like you’re sticking your butt out to the wall behind you. Feel yourself reach from head to tail.
  4. Exhale and arch your back. You can tuck your pelvis and roll up one vertebra at a time, with your head coming up last. Or, you could drop your head first and roll up one vertebra at a time, with your tailbone tuck being the last movement. However, you could also drop the head and tuck the tailbone at the same time, sequentially rolling until the middle of your spine reaches up to the ceiling as your apex. Like a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup, there’s no wrong way to move through cat stretch–as long as you are mindful of your movement. Use your whole exhale to move your body.
  5. Inhale and return to your starting position. Again, you have several ways to get here. You could rotate your pelvis back to neutral and move sequentially through your spine until your head reaches to neutral. Or, you could lengthen your head and neck to neutral and return one vertebra at a time until the pelvis rotates back to neutral. Also, you could start at the apex of the spine and start lengthening simultaneously toward the head and pelvis. It’s up to you. They’re all good choices. Use your whole inhale to return to neutral.
  6. Complete 3-10 reps.

3. Beginner Mermaid.

This simplified version of a Pilates classic exercise stretches one QL while working the other.

Why I Love It: I use this as a tool with my clients all the time! If you can’t lift your “supporting” hand, your back muscles aren’t working like they’re supposed to.

mermaid with the legs crossed
  1. Take a seat.
  2. Use Pilates breathing to inhale through your nose and exhale through pursed lips.
  3. Draw your belly button to your spine.
  4. Inhale as you raise an arm. Feel your fingertips lift toward the ceiling, and feel your ribs reach away from your hips.
  5. Exhale. Lift up and reach over (like you’re making a “C”) as you bend to the side.
  6. Inhale to come up to center.
  7. Exhale to lower your arm.
  8. Inhale and raise the opposite arm, so you can go to the other side.
  9. Exhale. Lift up and reach over (like you’re making a “C”) as you bend to the side.
  10. Complete 3-5 reps.

Related: Want to learn how to use the best pain-relieving exercises to specifically help you feel better? I’ll teach you in Spinal Rejuvenation!

4. Imprint.

This Pilates staple exercise teaches your abdominal and low back muscles how to work correctly to keep your posture neutral.

Why I Love It: Okay, I know that description doesn’t sound glamorous. But, the delightful feeling you get when your QL changes from stretching to working makes this exercise completely worth it!

a closeup picture of the Imprint Pilates exercise
  1. Use Pilates breathing. Inhale through your nose, and exhale through pursed lips.
  2. Imagine a spot about one inch below your belly button. Inhale into the sides of your rib cage and, as you exhale, think of drawing that spot on a diagonal line down toward your spine. Your low back should reach toward the floor, although it probably won’t completely touch or press flat against it.
  3. Make sure that the muscles in the front of your hips (your psoas) and your glutes aren’t active. They aren’t supposed to work while you do the Imprint Pilates exercise.
  4. Feel your QL stretch.
  5. Inhale and find the muscles in your low back to return your pelvis to neutral. When you activate the correct muscles (ahem, your QL), you’ll feel your back start to lift away from the floor. If you’re not sure how to find the correct muscles for this movement, here’s an idea. Imagine you’re out with a person you don’t really like, and they put their hand on your low back. Possibly you would be polite and wouldn’t pull away or make a big deal about it, but inside of you, every fiber of your being would be trying to get away. This is the image that I use to get my pelvis to return to neutral.
  6. Repeat steps 2 and 3 while breathing. Make sure your neck stays in neutral and your shoulders stay away from your ears.

5. THIS standing breathing exercise.

I learned this combination in one of my STOTT PILATES continuing education classes, and I couldn’t be more in love with it! This easy combo gets your body moving and specifically stretching the QL.

Why I Love It: This sequences provides both a good QL stretch and a strengthening opportunity. And, I do love a good multi-tasking exercise!

a Pilates breathing exercise that stretches the ql
  1. Begin standing with your feet about a fist’s distance apart.
  2. Take a couple of breaths. Inhale through your nose, exhale through pursed lips.
  3. Inhale through your nose.
  4. Exhale through pursed lips and bend forward. You should feel a good stretch in your low back.
  5. Inhale and come up to standing.
  6. Exhale and bend straight to the side. Don’t let your shoulders round forward and close off your body. Try to become a candy cane or shepherd’s crook.
  7. Inhale and come back to center.
  8. Exhale and bend to the other side. Same rules apply. Keep your chest open as you bend at the waist.
  9. Inhale and come back to center.
  10. Exhale and reach straight back. Think of lifting up out of your hip, then reaching back. This will ensure you don’t make an already-mad muscle even angrier.
  11. Go through this sequence 3 times.

Want to learn more exercises to relieve your hip + back pain?

If you were searching for information about how to use Heel slides to relieve hip + back pain today because you have some pain you’re trying to get rid of, you’re in luck! I’ve created a course to teach you everything you need to know to permanently ditch hip and back pain. Click here to check out my Spinal Rejuvenation program.

Or, if you want a free taste of what you’ll learn in Spinal Rejuvenation, click here to download The Secret to IMMEDIATE + LASTING Pain Relief.

Also, Kenhub.com is a leader in human anatomy-related information. To learn more about the quadratus lumborum, click here.

About Sarah Stockett

Hi, I'm Sarah! I'm a certified Pilates and yoga instructor with a passion for pain relief. I believe you can use simple exercises to relieve your aches + pains. AND, I believe I can teach you how.