The Pivot Blocking Effect of the Quadratus Lumborum Muscle, Part 1

By Dr. Matthew M. Rosman, GSEE
Director of Biomechanics and Sports Science, The Golfing Machine, LLC

In this article series the conditions and circumstances by which the quadratus lumborum (QL) muscle functions as a potent “Pivot Blocker” will be presented.  In addition, specific approaches to develop awareness for QL over-activation, as well as activities to develop a more optimal biomechanical “monitoring” and navigated setting of the pelvic complex for enhanced 7-12 Pivot “Power Package Transport” will be presented.

The QL’s status, as a result of faulty pose arrangement when forming the Golf Baseline Position (GBP™), serves as potential hidden source of disruption to the free flow of motion required in Zone One for all optimal desired Pivot based functions.

In order for the Pivot to function effectively, with the required well orchestrated coordination (a.k.a., Rhythm) by which the desired, fluid, cascading, chain-interacting, biophysics of rotation may be conducted properly, it is essential that all the components of the biomechanical system that participate in all Zone One functions operate effectively. The lawfully conducted, sequential, cascading, Pivot System operation produces the proper “Transfer of Momentum”, to harness forces from the ground up through the Swing Radius, to achieve the “Throw Out Action” described by Mr. Kelley in The Golfing Machine.

The QL is located adjacent to the lumbar spine.  Referring to the Illustrated Atlas of Musculoskeletal Anatomy, 2nd Edition, by Dr. Patrick Barron (Pine Island Publishers, Inc) on page 55:

•    The QL’s origin is on the posterior iliac crest of the bony pelvis with an association with a portion of the Iliolumbar ligament.  
•    The QL’s insertion is on a portion of the 12th rib, and the transverse processes of vertebrae L1 to L4.
•    The QL’s joint action contribution when innervated (with the pelvis fixed) is to perform lateral flexion of the lumbar spine to the same side (ipsilateral).  With the spine fixed, that portion of the bony pelvis on the same side (ipsilateral) is elevated.  
•    When the QL is innervated bilaterally the joint action upon concentric muscle engagement is lumbar spinal extension.

To summarize: the QL is a muscle that is located on both sides of the lumbar spine running from the last pair of ribs inferiorward to the superior aspect of the left and right bony pelvic complex’s innominate bone.  When activated bilaterally the QL extends the lumbar spine.  When activated unilaterally the QL performs lateral flexion of the lumbar spine to the same side of activation with the pelvic complex fixed.  When the lumbar spine is fixed, unilateral activation of the QL will produce an elevation of the pelvic complex’s innominate bone on the same side of activation. The QL is therefore a muscle which performs functions that reside in Zone One.

Lateral flexion or a “side” bending of the torso in a frontal plane (a frontal oblique plane relative to GBP) is a joint action which may unintentionally disrupt the mechanical “chain interaction” flow of motion in Zone One (9-1), as key aspects of the Stroke Pattern are executed, as illustrated in specific “sections” of The Golfing Machine’s depictions in Chapter Eight.  In fact, because of the specificity of design of the vertebral column, a very counterproductive action may occur when the lumbar spine performs lateral flexion as it relates golf performance for both set-up or during aspects of Pivot motion.
By consulting with The Physiology of the Joints, Volume Three, The Trunk and the Vertebral Column, by I.A. Kapandji (Churchhill Livingstone/Harcourt Brace and Company Limited) the biomechanics regarding elements of lateral flexion may be revealed.  On page 42 of this text, in a section entitled “Automatic Rotation Of The Vertebral Column During Lateral Flexion” the following is stated:

•    “During lateral flexion the vertebral bodies rotate contralaterally.”
•    “Lateral flexion increases the internal pressure of the ‘disc’ on the side of movement; as the disc is wedge-shaped its compressed substance tends to escape towards the zone of lower pressure, i.e., contralaterally.  This leads to rotation.”

Thus, certain motions in the spine are often a collaborative, summated, multi-planar, function.  To the casual observer, lateral flexion is the “external” pose arrangement visibly seen.  However, at the internal structural level, lateral flexion (of the lumbar spine) is a combined or “coupled” vertebral motion where lateral flexion and rotation are “coupled” to produce what is externally observed as lateral flexion.

The coupling of joint actions is a structural necessity.  In the text, Management of Common Musculoskeletal Disorders, Fourth Edition, by Darlene Hertling BS, RPT and Randolph M. Kessler, MD, With Contributors (Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, A Wolters Kluwer Company), the following is stated regarding coupling (pages 699-700):

•    “The phenomenon of coupling, in which two or more individual motions occur at the same time, has been well documented experimentally.17, 60, 78, 126, 190, 197, 208, 211  Frequently, three motions will simultaneously take place during normal physiologic spinal movement or function.  The coupling effect occurs in the thoracic spine169, 223, 224 but is more common in the cervical129 and lumbar spine.114, 171.”
•    “Pure movement in any of the three principle planes very seldom occurs, because of the orientation of facet joint surfaces does not exactly coincide with the plane of motion and therefore modifies it to a greater or lesser extent.80”
•    In addition, this text introduces (page 699) "Fryette’s Laws of Physiologic Spinal Motions 67, 142".   Fryette’s Three Laws helped to further promote the understanding of the coupling effect of the entire spine and changes that might occur to the coupling effect as the spine’s baseline pose arrangement changes from neutral to flexion or extension. This same text also states (page 699): “Although referred to as ‘laws,’ these statements are better viewed as concepts because they have undergone review and modification over time.”
•    It is also important to note that the orientation of the facet joints of the spine changes from the cervical to thoracic and lumbar spine and this further effects the coupling motion functions of the vertebral column as a “whole” functional unit as pose arrangements are conducted.
•    Thus, motion that is observed externally and defined as a specific planar type of joint action (such as lateral flexion or rotation) involves intricate mechanical coupling actions from every vertebral segment and regional section of the spine involved in that particular pose arrangement conducted.

In order for any joint action to occur there must be muscle action.  Specific muscles acting in collaboration produce the mechanical functions of "shortening" and "lengthening" required to “engineer” the joint actions performed by the skeletal system. The QL is a key muscle providing lateral flexion of the lumbar region.

In The Physiology of the Joints, Volume Three, The Trunk and the Vertebral Column, by I.A. Kapandji (Churchhill Livingstone/Harcourt Brace and Company Limited), on page 94, the following is stated:

•    “When one quadratus contracts it flexes the trunk ipsilaterally (fig 33).  It is powerfully helped in this movement by the internal oblique (stippled grey arrow pointing inferiolaterally) and the external oblique (hatched arrow pointing inferiormedially).”

It is important to note that the internal oblique muscle rotates the “trunk” to the same side, while the external oblique rotates the “trunk” to the opposite side.  Thus, the right internal oblique rotates the “trunk” to the right, while the right external oblique rotates the “trunk” to the left.
Therefore, a unilateral action of lateral flexion engaging the QL combined with the additional actions of the same side oblique muscles reinforces lateral flexion while “cancelling out” or neutralizing rotary effects.

Key Point Number One: The selective, voluntary, prime engagement of the QL for lateral flexion of the lumbar spine will, in-effect, “block” the extremely vital rotary benefits provided by the internal and external oblique muscles because of their “powerful” assistive supportive engagement with the QL for lateral flexion.

Key Point Number Two: Lateral flexion of the trailing side of the Cage and Core regions is a common and often practiced procedure for address set-up utilized by many recreational golfers for the creation of what is commonly referred to as a secondary spine angle.

•    The QL may serve as an unintended Pivot Blocker.
•    The QL’ s joint action is to produce lateral flexion of the lumbar spine particularly when the pelvic complex is more prone to be anchored such as is commonly practiced in many recreational golfer's “address set-up routines.”
•    Lateral flexion at the vertebral level in the lumbar spine is a coupled motion.  Elements of lateral flexion are coupled with rotation of the associated participating vertebral segments.
•    The common pathway of rotation would cause the large vertebral bodies to rotate away from the side of lateral flexion.  Thus, right lateral flexion would produce a compensatory rotation of the associated vertebral bodies to the left.
•    A right handed golfer in an address set up using a prime motion of right lateral flexion to set up a “secondary spinal tilt” to the right would produce a coupled motion in which the associated lumbar vertebrae would rotate to the left.
•    With the pelvic complex relatively anchored (square), the cage and core regions of the trunk would now be considered open in relationship to a square stance line.
•    The contributions of the same side internal and external oblique muscles with the QL would reinforce the lateral flexion anchoring while nullifying the rotation function of the associated internal and external oblique muscles as these specific muscles on the same side have opposing directions of rotary joint action.
•    The ability to engage a Pivot motion for Start Up, Back Stroke etc., would now in effect be “blocked” by what at first seems like a benign, “standard”, commonly utilized, set-up element for the address routine.

Some key questions that this specific article series will focus on are:

•    Are there issues with the QL outside of the realm of golf that cause a predisposition to its overactive dominance in GBP set-up and operation as a Pivot Blocker?
•    Is there a manner of pose arrangement of the biomechanical system which fosters a desired use of “tilt” and reduces or dampens the Pivot Blocking effect of the QL?
•    Why do so many aspiring student golfers observed at set up have a trailing hip complex innominate bone higher than the target side innominate bone?  
•    Are there any performance based motor learning drills or activities that can be suggested to help offset this Pivot Blocking effect?

Part 2 will continue the conversation and begin to address these questions.  

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