Muscles in the Back and Core Strengthening

By Liz Brabston, PTA

Overview of the Back Muscles

There are many muscles in the back, each of which helps contribute to movement throughout your body, including the upper and lower body.  The muscles in the back help with standing up straight. They also help with bending forward (flexion) and backward (extension).

What are 5 muscles in your Back?

The muscles in the back are the Multifidus, Latissimus Dorsi, Erector Spinae, Thoraco- Lumbar Fascia, and the Trapezius.

Human anatomy diagram showing the muscles that are locate din the back. These back muscles include the multifidus, latissimus dorsi, erector spinae, and thoraco lumbar. JOI Rehab

Muscles of the Lower Back

Further, they help with bending to the side and twisting (rotation), and reaching, extending, and pulling with your arms.  The deep back muscles are what give stability to your spine and provide support to your torso.  This article will provide more information about the muscle in your back that provides stability and support, know as the multifidus.

Deep Muscles in the Back

The multifidus lays deep in the back’s muscles, starting at the sacral bone, working its way up both sides of the spine, attaching to the spinous process of each vertebra.  You can feel your spinous process if you run your hand along your spine as it is the bony projection of each vertebra’s back—the multifidus inserts into the spinous process of C2 (your second vertebra in the cervical spine).

The multifidus is a smaller muscle in your back, yet it provides great stability for your trunk, allowing for upright posture. If you picture a crane and how it has crossbars for stability, the same is for the multifidus muscle.  Its fibers cross, attaching to the lumbar spine, allowing for extension, rotation, and side bending.  The stronger the multifidus is the decrease risks of injury to the back as well.

Shoulder Muscles in the Back

Anatomical diagram of shoulder muscles in the back. JOI Rehab

Posterior Shoulder Muscles

How do you Know if Back Pain is Muscular? 

  • A back strain can be caused by improperly lifting heavy objects. Symptoms of a pulled muscle in your back include:
  • Stiffness and aching in the lower back muscles
  • Muscle spasms
  • Pain that worsens when bending
  • Pain that radiates to hips and the legs

Strengthening Muscles in the Back

To strengthen muscle stabilizers in the back, it is best to learn how to engage your transverse abdominis and multifidus properly.  The transverse abdominis muscle is a deep abdominal muscle and is one of four muscles that make up your inner core (the multifidus is another). Both the multifidus and transverse abdominis provide stability to the core and spine, allowing for upright posture in standing and walking.

This activation requires drawing the belly button toward your spine when lying on you back.  To palpate for proper activation of the transverse abdominis, place two fingers on the front of your hip bone and then move two fingers’ length toward the belly button and push deep while gently drawing in your belly button.

To palpate for the multifidus muscle, lay on your stomach or your side and place two fingers to the side of the spinous process, which is the boney projection you feel if you run your hand down your spine. Lift the opposite leg from the side you are palpating to feel the multifidus “pop” up.

Exercises for your Core.

Transverse Abdominis JOI Rehab

How To Engage Your Transverse Abdominis

Once you can properly engage these muscles, there are several exercises you can to strengthen the multifidus and transverse abdominis to increase core and trunk stability and decrease pain in the back.  The following are just a few exercises that can be prescribed during your PT session:

  • Supine Transverse Abdominis Contraction (this exercise can be progressed with dynamic movement, making this more challenging for engaging the TrA.
  • Quadruped exercises such as bird dog
  • Planks
  • A pall of Press with resistance bands that engage your core muscles to resist the rotation of your spine
  • Yoga

Learning how to activate the true core muscles in the back and strengthen them will increase stability and decrease pain.  The stronger the multifidus and TrA, the better your posture control and alignment of the spine are, which will allow for increased tolerance for all daily activities.

By: Liz Brabston, PTA

Please Watch this Video from The Jacksonville Orthopaedic Institute: Lower Back Stretches for Home

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