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Your Lumbar Spine

If you’ve ever had low back pain, you’ll want to learn about your lumbar vertebrae. The health and alignment of these five bony structures can make a world of difference in your overall happiness levels. With just the slightest slip of a disc or shift of a bone, you can feel pain or discomfort. Here’s more about your lumbar spine.

Your Lumbar Vertebrae

There are five vertebrae that make up your lumbar spine. Directly above your L1 (the first lumbar vertebra) is your T12, the bottom thoracic vertebra. Below your L5 (the bottom lumbar vertebra) is your S1, the top sacral vertebra. The health and placement of your thoracic vertebrae and sacrum can greatly impact the health and function of your lumbar vertebrae.

These five lumbar vertebrae fit together to create the curve to your low back. Between each vertebrae is a disk. These disks serve several purposes. They absorb shock from impact, and they help to create the appropriate amount of space for nerves to pass from the spinal cord to the body.

According to Innerbody.com, the lumbar vertebrae are some of the largest vertebrae in the spine, second only to the sacrum. As with the cervical vertebrae in the neck, the lumbar vertebrae are slightly different shapes and sizes. Most notably, L5 is different from the other lumbar vertebrae.

lumbar vertebrae

Thanks to Innerbody for the image.

“The fifth lumbar vertebra is distinct from the L1-4 vertebrae in being much larger on its front side than in the back. Its spinous process, on the other hand, is smaller than in the other lumbar vertebrae with a wide, four-sided shape that comes to a rough edge and a thick notch.”

lumbar vertebrae

Thanks to Wikipedia for the image.

If you’re looking at the lumbar vertebrae compared to the cervical vertebrae, you’ll notice that some things are missing. Lumbar vertebrae lack the transverse foramina in the transverse processes as well as facets on either side of the body of the vertebra.

Nerves from the Lumbar Spine

Nerves from the lumbar spine branch into two sections. One branch of each nerve runs forward to bring sensation to the anterior part of the body, while the other branch of the nerve runs toward the back of the body. This brings sensation to the muscles and skin on the back part of the body.

The nerves are named according to the vertebra that is directly above the nerve. For example, the L1 nerve is located directly below the L1 vertebra.

Lumbar Nerves

According to Wikipedia, the lumbar nerves supply the following muscles with feeling:

What Wikipedia has to offer here is a good start but in no way a complete list. Generally speaking, the nerves of the lumbar spine provide feeling to your legs–both the muscles within them and the surface skin.

Some notable muscles not included on this list are the quadriceps (L2-4), hamstrings (L5), and peroneals (L5). I found this information in Flash Anatomy Muscles Flash Cards.

Muscles That Impact the Lumbar Spine

A pull from a tight muscle can easily shift a vertebra one direction or another. For this reason, it’s important to know about all of the muscles that attach onto your lumbar vertebrae. Here are all of the muscles that attach to one of your five lumbar vertebrae.

  • Erector Spinae:  The erector spinae muscles run all along the spine. They help to move the spine into extension.
  • Iliocostalis Lumborum:  This muscle originates on the lower two thoracic and all of the lumbar vertebrae. The iliocostalis lumborum is another muscle that helps to extend the spine.
  • Iliopsoas:  The iliopsoas is actually a combination of three muscles that run from T12 and all of the lumbar vertebrae, join together, and insert on the upper part of the femur. This group is your main hip flexor.
  • Latissimus Dorsi:  This muscle originates on the lower six thoracic and all lumbar vertebrae. Even though it’s primarily used to move the humerus or rotate the scapula, it can still impact your low back.
  • Multifidus:  This muscle helps rotate and create side flexion for the spine. It is present from the cervical through the lumbar vertebrae.
  • Quadratus Lumborum:  This muscle inserts on the transverse processes of the upper four lumbar vertebrae. It helps to flex the lumbar vertebrae.
  • Rotatores:  The rotatores muscles help rotate the spine. They are present throughout the entire spine.
  • Serratus Posterior Inferior:  Serratus posterior inferior originates on the bottom two thoracic and top three lumbar vertebrae. This muscle primarily aids in respiration.

So, What Do I Do with this Information?

Now that you’re more aware of the vertebrae, nerves, and muscles that impact your lumbar spine; you might be able to better help yourself the next time you feel back pain. Try stretches, massage, and use tools like a lacrosse ball or The Orb to help you get into tight spots.

If you notice that you’re still having an odd sensation or intense pain, call your doctor. Your doctor can order all of the appropriate tests, medications, and therapy to get you the help you need.

Do you have more information to add about the lumbar spine? If you do, please share 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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