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As paddlers, we use our core muscles, the abdominals and back muscles, to stabilize our body and give us power in our stroke. One of the many muscles we paddlers use is the Quadratus Lumborum (QL), located deep in the
back of the waist, on both sides of our lumbar vertebrae. It attaches from the
lower ribs to the pelvis and the lower back. When the Quadratus Lumborum contracts unilaterally, it brings the
spine and pelvis closer together, raising the hip. When the QL contracts on both sides of the spine, it is responsible for extension
of the lower back. Trigger points in this muscle can cause referred pain in
your lower back. 

The image above (left) denotes the location of the QL, while the image above (right) depicts the location of referred lower back pain.


As paddlers, the Quadratus Lumborum easily becomes an over-worked muscle, as we often find ourselves hiking our hips as we carve into and out of eddies, brace through rapids, and roll our kayaks. When over-worked,
the QL can give us a deep aching pain in our lower backs. 
Through stretching and self-mobilization, it is possible to
loosen the QL and relieve lower back pain.




One stretch for the QL involves lying on a bed, on your side, with your back toward the edge of the bed. Extend the top leg backward and downward toward the floor. Turn the upper body slightly in the opposite direction,
toward the middle of the bed. Reach up with your “upside” arm. You should feel
a deep stretch in your back. Remain in this stretch for a few minutes, and move to stretch the QL on your other side. 



  1. Start with your pelvis stacked completely vertical, one leg on top of the other. Do not let your pelvis roll backward off the bed until you are more
    experienced with the stretch.
  2. To further deepen the stretch, you may stack a few pillows underneath your waist.

3. The farther the upper leg hangs off the side of the bed, the deeper the stretch will feel.


Self-Mobilization/Self Massage:


Find yourself a tennis ball, or something circular of about the same size.


Lie on your back on the floor, place the tennis ball between you and the floor, just below your ribcage, but near the spine on one side. Roll around on the tennis ball until you hit your QL. You’ll know when you are in the right
place, because if the QL is the source of your back pain, you will feel some
pain and tension. Once you feel this, stay in that location, and roll
around on the ball for ten minutes or so. If the pain is too great, lift some
of your body weight off the ball, or find a larger ball to roll around on. This
is a quick and easy way to massage the muscle on your own.

This can also be done standing upright, back to a wall, with the tennis ball between your back and the wall. Start moving your body against the tennis ball and slowly work down your back.


Finally, be careful how much self-mobilization you do in one day. You may be VERY sore the next day. However, overtime, you should notice a decrease in lower back pain.




I hope all of you with lower back pain are able to find some relief with these stretches and mobilizations!


Kim Russell




**Kim Russell has a B.S. in Human Physiology from the University of Oregon. She is currently working as a Physical Therapist Aides, earning glances into stretches and mobilization techniques for paddlers. These techniques are ones that she has found to work for herself in releasing the Quadratus Lumborum Muscle, and may not be suitable for some individuals. Consult your physician before trying any of these stretches or mobilizations.**

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Comment by Kim Russell (previously Becker) on February 28, 2011 at 10:46pm

Tony, I'm glad to hear these stretches worked for you! Back pain is no fun! Here's to a future free of pain :) Give a shout if you have any other pains that need some helpin'.


Hope to see you on the river sometime,





Comment by Tony Dyrsmid on February 28, 2011 at 8:35pm
I am indebted to you Kim, this has helped my lower back immensly.Thank you. I was telling my chiropractor that it felt like kidney pain and he had no solution. After 2 days of stretching my back feels about 70% better.

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