Multifidus: Learn Your Muscles

The multifidus is one of your spinal muscles. What makes this particular muscle interesting is that it doesn’t insert on the vertebra above the origin. Instead, it skips 2-4 vertebrae to insert. Because the muscle skips vertebrae before inserting, it helps maintain and create the structure of the spine.

If you want to have a healthy spine, knowing how to care for this muscle is a must!

Location

multifidus and rotatores

Thanks to Niel Asher Healthcare for the image.

The multifidus is a long spinal muscle with many points of origin and insertion. According to The Concise Book of Muscles, the points of origin for the multifidus are:

“Posterior surface of sacrum, between the sacral foramina and posterior superior iliac spine. Mamillary processes (posterior borders of superior articular processes) of all lumbar vertebrae. Transverse processes of all thoracic vertebrae. Articular processes of lower four cervical vertebrae.”

So, basically, the muscle originates from specific points on the sacrum and all the vertebrae up to the lower four vertebrae of the neck. From these points of origin, the multifidus then inserts into the spinous process 2-4 vertebrae above the point of origin. These insertion points span from the fifth lumbar vertebrae (L5) up to the axis (C-2).

Function

As with many spinal muscles, when the multifidus works unilaterally, it causes lateral flexion and rotation to the opposite side as the working muscle. When the muscle works bilaterally, it causes spinal extension.

The multifidus also contributes to maintaining good posture and spinal stability whether standing, sitting, or moving.

Common Dysfunction

Improper lifting technique can cause strain or injury to the multifidus. For this reason, you should always be cautious to lift with bent knees, keep your back straight, and hold the object as close to you as possible.

Restoring or Maintaining Health

Please see your doctor if you think you may have hurt, pulled, strained, sprained, or tore this muscle. Your doctor can prescribe imaging, medicine, and therapy to help quickly and correctly diagnose your cause of pain.

If you are simply wanting to strengthen this muscle to avoid future injuries, there are many exercises you can do at home. Personally, I like to do the Pilates Swan dive preps. This exercise lets you compare what it feels like to specifically work the different areas of your spine. When lifting your upper body off the floor, make sure that your low back doesn’t take over. You should feel thoracic extension here, not lumbar work.

Other good strengthening exercises are: Locust pose, Cobra pose, Sphinx poseMermaid, Side angle pose, Triangle pose, Simple seated twist, and Obliques.

More Information

I consulted The Concise Book of Muscles by Chris Jarmey. Recently, the book was revised and is in its third edition. I love this book as a quick go-to guide for easy to understand anatomy.

For those who are more interested in technical terminology and smaller muscles, I recommend Flash Anatomy Muscles Flash Cards. Any time a client comes to me with pain, I use these flash cards.

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

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About Sarah Stockett

Hi! I'm Sarah, and I'm a certified Pilates and yoga instructor with a passion for pain relief. When I'm not working with clients, I'm researching the best ways to get rid of pain. Do you want to learn how to practice yoga and Pilates safely in your own home? Or, do you want to know all my tips and tricks for pain relief? Join my mailing list and receive free goodies to help you.

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