Erector Spinae: Learn Your Muscles

The erector spinae, which is also known as the sacrospinalis, is a group of muscles along your spine. Three muscles compose the erector spinae:  the iliocostalis, longissimus, and spinalis.

Previously, we learned about the iliocostalis lumborum and its relationship with back pain. So, think about this:  One of the the key muscles for the overall health of your whole spine can be a leading cause of low back pain. A tight muscle in your low back could lead to the pain your feel in your midback and vice versa.

Here’s more information about this spinal muscle group and how to keep it healthy.

Location

erector spinae musclesBecause this is a muscle group, there are several points of origin. They include:  the sacrum, iliac crest, spinous and transverse processes of the vertebrae, and the ribs. So, the erector spinae originates from your tailbone, along the back edge of your pelvis, up your spine, and along your ribs.

The erector spinae inserts on your ribs, the spinous and transverse processes of your vertebrae, and on the occipital bone. So, when you look at the origin of the muscles in this group, work your way up the spine and you’ll find their insertions. The occipital bone is the back, bottom part of your skull. Since the erector spinae originates on the sacrum and inserts on the occipital bone, you can see that the muscle runs literally from head to tail.

Function

The main task of the erector spinae is to extend and laterally flex the spine. This means that it’s a major muscle to help you bend backwards and straight to the side. Another main task for this muscle group is to maintain the correct, neutral curvature of the spine while sitting and standing. Also, it steadies the vertebral column on the pelvis when you walk.

Common Dysfunction

As with all muscles, injury can occur when the muscle is weak or not used correctly. Frequently, erector spinae injury occurs when lifting without help from the knees or when lifting or holding an object in front of the body.

Restoring or Maintaining Health

If you are in pain, your best bet is to see your doctor. Your doctor can order imaging, therapy, and medicine to help you in your diagnosis and recovery. Once you are cleared by your doctor, there are certainly exercises you can do at home to help strengthen and restore function to the erector spinae.

Whenever you’re creating a therapeutic workout for yourself, you should think about what your target muscle does. Incorporate exercises that do the action of the muscle and also make sure to do exercises that do the exact opposite.

In this case, you should choose exercises that

  1. work from a neutral position (like Leg slides, Leg lift, Tadasana, and Dandasana),
  2. extend the spine (like Breast stroke preps, Swan dive, Cobra pose, Sphinx pose, and Locust pose), and
  3. laterally flex the spine (like Side bend prepMermaid, Triangle pose, and Side angle pose).

Likewise, you should also incorporate spinal flexion and rotation. I suggest Cat pose, Roll ups, Obliques, and Simple seated twist.

More Information

I consulted The Concise Book of Muscles by Chris Jarmey. Recently, the book was revised and is in its third edition. For some reason, the Amazon link wouldn’t pull up for this newest edition, but it is available on Amazon.

Also, I consulted my Flash Anatomy Muscles Flash Cards. If you really enjoy anatomy and want a tool to help you locate specific muscles correctly, I highly recommend these flash cards. I turn to them any time a client comes in with pain.

Here’s a link to buy them on Amazon. If you purchase them from this link, I earn a small commission.

Thank you so much for reading. If you find my information valuable, please consider supporting this website. With your support, I can gather and share more wonderful information about the human body.

What’s your favorite way to strengthen your erector spinae? Let us know in the comments below.

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Sarah Stockett is STOTT certified in Matwork, Reformer, Cadillac, Chair, & Barrels, Injuries & Special Populations, and CORE; a Yoga Alliance RYT-200; and has studied Active Isolated Stretching. When she is not trying to discover the best exercises to get rid of pain, she likes watching movies and travelling with her family.

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