Side Angle Pose for Flank Muscles and the Quadratus Lumborum

Yoga poses for back pain include the side angle. Side angle pose may help stretch key core muscles such as the oblique abdominals as well as several others.

Adding side angle pose to your yoga practice will likely challenge your balance. Plus, it's known for giving a great spine lengthening experience. Regular performance of side angle, along with other yoga poses may help you reverse years of poor posture habits.

To learn how to perform side angle pose correctly, follow these instructions.

Extended Side Angle Pose, Utthita Parsvakonasana
Ann Pizer

Side Angle Pose Stretches the Flank and Lengthens the Spine

How often do you bend your spine (trunk) to the side? If you are like most people, the answer is not very often. But certain muscles, especially those in the core, may greatly benefit from the stretch offered by a well-executed side angle pose. These include:

  • Quadratus lumborum. Located on either side of the waist, this fundamental posture muscle works when you hike your hip up, as a fashion model might, or when you are standing on one leg only.
  • Intercostals. Located between each rib, the intercostals are comprised of several sets of small muscles that criss-cross each other. The intercostal muscles are active while you breathe; they help expand the rib cage during inhale, and they decrease the size of the rib cage as you let the air out of your lungs. The intercostal muscles also play a role in posture support as well as mid and upper back pain management.
  • Internal and external obliques abdominal muscles. The internal and external oblique abs, especially the internals, are located fairly deep inside the trunk, with one of each on either side of the spine. These core abs play major roles in the support of your upright body posture. They also play a role in breathing, particularly during exhale.

To realize the lengthening and stretching benefits of side angle pose, try to feel the stretch as one diagonal line, from your back foot through your trunk and the side of your rib cage, and all the way out your arm and hand.

Solidly anchor the heel of your outstretched foot into the floor to intensify the stretch.

Mind Your Pelvic Position

Yoga instruction, especially Iyengar style, often comes with finer points you're encouraged to attend to that are meant to help you realize the benefits of the pose.

One particularly useful point for the side angle pose is to direct the top hip up toward the ceiling and also backward. This dynamic may result in intensified work on the part of the back muscles, as well as a deeper stretch in all the muscles mentioned above, especially the quadratus lumborum.

To accommodate this up and back direction of the pelvis on the straight leg side, the pelvis on the bent leg side should be brought forward a bit. Don't overdo it, though; a little bit of forward action goes a long way.

Scoliosis and Kyphosis

Side bending not only stretches the flank, but it can also help develop the muscles affected by posture conditions. This may be especially true in cases of scoliosis or kyphosis.

If you have scoliosis, you've likely known the pain of living with a side-to-side spinal curve. The muscle groups around your spine may be tight, weak or a combination. And while scoliosis is indeed a structural problem that occurs in the skeleton, the resulting condition of muscles can intensify associated pain and physical dysfunction.

Similarly, tight and weak muscles may also result from kyphosis.

That said, a 2018 review of literature on non-surgical scoliosis treatment published in the Journal of Craniovertebral Junction and Spine found that the effectiveness of a yoga practice, as well as other types of holistic or lifestyle approaches, depends on individual factors including curve severity, how old you are and what type of curve you have.

When you get a chance to stretch the quadratus lumborum, oblique abs and intercostal muscles, as side angle pose allows you to do, you are taking a pro-active step towards managing the pain caused by scoliosis and kyphosis.

Hint for Beginners

Consider practicing with your back against the wall to help you stay aligned in the beginning.

Once you know how to get into and out of the pose safely, and you are able to incorporate all the alignment points, try stepping away from the wall to increase the challenge of the pose.

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By Anne Asher, CPT
Anne Asher, ACE-certified personal trainer, health coach, and orthopedic exercise specialist, is a back and neck pain expert.