A strong multifidus helps spinal stability

Susan Dawson-Cook

Most people give me puzzled looks when I talk about the multifidus muscles before they ask, “What’s that?” One of the smallest muscles in the body and also one of the most important, the multifidus is a muscle attaching to joint segments along the vertebrae near the spine’s midline. The multifidus muscles in the lumbar region are particularly critical to spinal health because this tends to be the least stable during movement.

The multifidus is active when standing, bending forward, twisting and even walking and teams up with the transverse abdominals and pelvic floor muscles to stabilize the spinal column before arm and leg movements begin. So for example, when you lean forward and reach to lift an item, the multifidus muscles react ahead of the action, contracting to hug the spine and prevent back injury.

Properly functioning multifidus muscles reduce the degeneration of spinal joint structures and can prevent or reduce current back pain. Before you rush to the gym and begin haphazardly performing roman chair exercises, dead lifts and other exercises you deem might shore you up; consider this important fact. Studies suggest that many patients suffering from low back pain experience a delay in this anticipatory firing of the multifidus muscles. The aggravation caused by this lack of preventative muscle activity often leads to lower back pain or injury. If this dysfunction in muscle firing is not corrected, re-injury can occur even after pain subsides.

A personal trainer or physical therapist can show you how to find the multifidus muscle and learn how to activate and strengthen it through lumbar extension and other activities. Research has repeatedly shown that back rehabilitation emphasizing proper back and core muscle strengthening has a high success rate, reducing back pain and the rate of recurrent injuries. Often muscle strengthening alone can eliminate pain, even in individuals with spinal disorders.

Now that you know what the multifidus muscle is, where it’s located and how critical it is to spinal health, consider consulting with a certified trainer so you can find out first-hand how proper training can improve the quality of your life.

Freelance writer and author Susan Dawson-Cook has been an AFAA certified fitness professional since 1990. Her SaddleBrooke employer is Vital Moves (850-4089). You can email Susan directly at susan@corazondeloro.com.