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Rotatores: Learn Your Muscles

The rotatores are a spinal muscle group responsible for (as you might guess from the name) rotation. There are two rotatores muscles:  brevis and longus. Although the primary action of these muscles is rotation, their connections on the spine help strengthen the whole structure to combat gravity.

Location

multifidus and rotatores

Thanks to Niel Asher Healthcare for the image.

Both rotatores muscles originate on the transverse process of each vertebra. For those who don’t know, the transverse process is the part of your vertebra that sticks out to the side.

Personally, I think vertebrae are like misshapen fidget spinners. Think of a fidget spinner. You’ve got one point up at the top and a point to each side. They are equidistant.

Now, imagine that somehow your spinner has melted and the two side points have moved closer toward the top point. These two side points are the transverse processes of your vertebrae and the top point is the spinous process. (The spinous processes are the bony part of your spine that you feel when you reach back and touch your spine with your hand.)

The insertion for the rotatores brevis is on the base of the spinous process of the immediately superior vertebra. So, the muscle runs on and upward diagonal path toward the midline of the body. Unlike the multifidus, it inserts on the vertebra directly above the point of origin.

The rotatores longus, however, is slightly different. It inserts on the base of the spinous process two vertebrae above the point of origin, much like the multifidus.

Function

When the rotatores work unilaterally, they rotate the spine. However, when the rotatores work bilaterally, they assist in extending the vertebral column. These muscles also contribute to maintaining neutral posture while sitting, standing, and moving.

Common Dysfunction

Improper lifting technique can cause strain or injury to the rotatores. 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 injured 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. Any exercise that involves rotation would be a good choice. For example, Simple seated twist, Half Lord of the fishes pose, Obliques, Obliques roll back, Spine twist, and Spinal rotation are all good poses or exercises.

To strengthen all muscles that contribute to spinal extension, I recommend Locust pose, Cobra pose, Sphinx pose, Breast stroke, Swimming, and Swan dive.

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! I'm a certified Pilates and yoga instructor with a passion for pain relief. I believe you can use simple exercises to relieve your aches + pains. AND, I believe I can teach you how.

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