The multifidus: meet your spine’s unsung hero

You have a unique muscle called the multifidus muscle, which plays an important role in the well-being of your spine. Despite its importance, most people are unfamiliar with this remarkable muscle. Taking the time to learn what its role is in your body and how to strengthen it, may improve your overall function, stability, and even ease pain. 

This unsung muscle hero works tirelessly to stabilise and protect your spine, while also helping in extending and rotating your back. It holds your backbone firmly and provides strength as you bend and move. By doing so, it effectively reduces pressure on your spinal discs and minimises the risk of injury. 

The multifidus muscle is long and thin, consisting of many muscle bundles. Each bundle spans only a few vertebrae, but together, they connect and support most of your spine. Nestled deeply against your backbone, this muscle extends from your pelvis and tailbone to your lower back, midback, and neck. Due to its role, a weak multifidus can disrupt vertebral stability, particularly in your lower back.
Within your lumbar spine lies a neutral zone, which represents the range of motion that can be achieved easily from a relaxed position with minimal muscular effort. Remaining within this neutral zone requires less energy and places less stress on your spine, resulting in improved functionality, reduced pain, and decreased disability. Just like perfectly aligned car tyres require less effort to move, the same principle applies to your spine. 

The multifidus muscle works its magic by stabilising your spine without conscious effort, contracting and relaxing as needed. However, injury or weakness can occur, making it harder to maintain a safe and neutral zone. As a result, your spine may begin to subtly ‘wobble’ more than usual, needing additional effort to secure it. This places increased pressure on the surrounding tissues, potentially leading to damage and dysfunction; especially if you’ve undergone back surgery. In fact, damage to this muscle is associated with a condition known as failed back surgery syndrome. 

Fortunately, you can strengthen the multifidus through regular exercise. One example is "The Superman". To perform this exercise, lie on your stomach on the floor. Extend your arms over your head while keeping your legs straight. Maintain a neutral head position by imagining you’re keeping a ball between your chin and chest. Gently contract your abdominal muscles, and slowly lift your arms and legs off the floor until you feel your lower back engage. Hold this position for two to three seconds, and then repeat ten times, twice. Stop if you feel pain. 

It’s important to note that the multifidus muscle is not the only muscle that supports your spine and there are a number of strengthening exercises. Talk to your chiropractor first, we can provide advice on customised exercise to ensure optimal results and prevent potential complications. Feel free to reach out to us if you have any questions or concerns.

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The multifidus: meet your spine’s unsung hero