by Lisa Sanson
“Sitting is the new smoking”? Yes, I am suggesting that sitting negatively affects your deep low back muscle, the quadratus lumborum (QL), just as smoking negatively affects the lungs, and both can create dis-ease/disease in the body. In this analogy, the QL can be thought of as the lungs of the lower back.
The QL is a flat sheet of muscle that sits deep in the back waist on either side of the spine and runs from the posterior iliac crest to the 12th rib. When both sides contract, the QL extends the lumbar spine, when one side is contracted it laterally flexes the spine, and if the upper body is stabilized it will elevate one hip. The latter action gives the QL the nickname “hip hiker,” as this action lifts one side of the pelvis when stepping over a log or simply creating space for one leg to swing ahead of the other when walking.
The QL plays an important role in stabilizing the lumbar spine, an area that is highly susceptible to pain and discomfort, so the strength and flexibility of these muscles is vital in maintaining a healthy spine.
Just as smoking can harm the lungs, sitting can impede optimal functioning of the QL. If you allow your lower back to round, which is what tends to happen during sitting, the QL is in constant state of flexion. This persistent and long held over lengthening decreases overall tonicity of the entire muscle. Being that the QL is a major player in stabilizing the lumbar spine, this can certainly create vulnerability and weakness in your lower back.
If you are in the habit of watching your posture as you sit you still run the risk of stressing out the QL because of the QL’s relationship to the psoas, your deepest hip flexor. When seated, the psoas is in a shortened position, which requires the QL to step up support of the spine. The overwork of the QL is amplified if sitting entails hunching over a computer and rounding of the upper spine and shoulders places even more stress on the QL. This overuse leads to muscle fatigue and weakness with decreased blood flood the area.
If “sitting is the new smoking,” then sitting crossed legged is like smoking an unfiltered cigarette, creating even greater negative repercussions as the QL continues to over work trying to stabilize the spine and hike one hip, quite possibly resulting in debilitating muscular imbalances. A final point drawing this parallel of sitting/smoking and lungs/QL is considering that the QL assists in respiration by fixing the 12th rib in place when the diaphragm contracts on a forced exhalation.
Suppleness and health in the QL can allow for a full, more powerful breath and muscle dysfunction inhibits optimal breath. Maybe I should have opened with that point – WOW.
I took up smoking, I mean sitting, when I entered grad school and instantly my lower back was not amused. For the most part, I am aware of my posture as I sit. However, as I recently discovered, sitting for long periods of time can create lower back pain even with good posture. The longer I sat, the more fatigued I became, inevitably allowing my upper spine to hunch over the keyboard, thus shifting my weight forward and putting even more stress on my QL.
There is hope! With targeted self-massage into the QL and a specific low back stretch, I found relief. The video below demonstrates a super easy lower back and side stretch that can be done on the floor. As boomerang stretches one side of the lower back, it compresses the other and this compression facilitates muscle toning with increased circulation. Whether you need stretching or toning to achieve lower back health, boomerang delivers.
P.S. If you sit in an office and would rather not lie on the floor for boomerang, take it to the wall – MAGICAL!
Lisa Sanson is an E-RYT a certified Yoga Tune Up teacher and Foundation Training student instructor. With graduate studies in Counselling Psychology Lisa is able to integrate knowledge of the mind as she guides students through explorations of the body. She believes that awareness of the mind/body connection offers an effective path to wellness. Interweaving anatomy, psychology and yogic philosophy, Lisa strives to create an easy-going atmosphere where students are encouraged to experiment with traditional and innovative poses working to find a balance of strength and ease in the body and mind. www.sansonyoga.com