Did you know that after your body is injured, it does everything in its power to not only protect the injury, but to also forget it? Without you even being aware, your body begins to tighten the surrounding tissues, forming a cast with the surrounding muscles and tendons. To avoid pain, your brain even decreases the number of nerve signals it sends to the muscles, sometimes to almost nothing. You may have felt this after spraining your ankle. Your hips or lower leg may feel tight as you change your walking pattern as the ankle heals. The chance of you reinjuring the ankle is much higher, because it’s as if your brain has completely forgotten it was ever attached to your leg!
The same is true for muscles all in your body, including a very important one most of us are not even aware we possess. On either side of your spine, from the cervical spine all the way to the sacrum, are these wonderful muscles known collectively as the multifidi. Besides sounding a bit magical, the multifidi, assist in spinal rotation and support. Every time you think of standing up from a seated position, the mutlifidi are engaged without you even being aware! When you rotate your spine around its axis, the multifidi help to rotate each vertebrae group around the next, turning your entire spine into an erector set.
The most interesting fact about the multifidi isn’t when they function properly- it’s when they fizzle. After a back injury, your brain shuts down innervation to the multifidi and other spinal supporters, such as the transverse abdominus. So now, you not only have an injury to the area, but your brain is no longer talking to the muscles that help support your spine! As a result, the muscles that weren’t made to primarily support your spine are working double overtime to keep you upright, and you may feel this as tightness and discomfort throughout your body, as your muscles and joints desperately try to compensate for the loss of support.
Some Yoga Tune Up® poses that are wonderful for locating and reawakening the multifidi are Jithara Parvartonasana (revolved abdominal pose), Pasasana Twist at wall, and Tadasana. These little guys work hard to support you, so don’t forget them and give your multifidi a shout out next time you stand up!
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Thanks Alexandra for sharing this post. I did not know that, “To avoid pain, your brain even decreases the number of nerve signals it sends to the muscles, sometimes to almost nothing.” I do recall after injuries wondering why surrounding areas felt off-line, not as connected, to the rest of my body. Three cheers for YTU poses and Therapy balls to keep the nerve connections flowing and to keep sore muscles relaxed.
Great overview of the multifidi, and how an injury to one area of the body will affect us in other parts of the body. Thank you!
Wow, I had no idea that the after an injury “your brain even decreases the number of nerve signals it sends to the muscles, sometimes to almost nothing” in an attempt to avoid pain. This is a pretty big deal! No wonder the entire rest of the body gets so sore after and trauma a particular joint! Locating and reawakening the spinal stabilizers seems like it might be a pretty important key to recovering from back pain!
The Multifidi facilitate extension and rotation of the spine. After reading this post, I have a better understanding of what happens when someone turns their neck to the side too fast and subsequently can’t turn their head in the full range of motion. Injured and then tensed, immobilized, or unresponsive transversospinalis muscles. It’s important to practice using those muscles again to wake them back up. Great post.
Thanks for this Alex. A great reminder of how pain patterns are created. Deep muscles that form our inner “canister” are even more important as we age. As I’m nearing 60, I am trying to guard against the affects of osteopenia. Your post reminds me how important it is to keep the multifidi working like the should to help keep me upright. It’s too easy to start growing into a rounded shape in more ways than one! Love this training!
Thanks Alex! I had read your article a couple of years ago around my level 1 time. Since then I often think about the multifidi and hear your voice in my head. When opting to add this muscle in my anatomy immersion homework ‘need to know muscles’ I knew I had to revisit your blog. Thank you again for explaining it’s functions and location. It was a great refresher and also reminder how the body can shut off signals after injury. Seeing an NKT has been incredibly helpful in re-establishing neuro pathways after my various injuries and surgeries.
Thank you for your article. I’ve learned so much reading it! I love the image of the tissues forming a cast. And I knew nothing about how the brain stop talking to some muscles after an injury… Now I’ll know better what to do/recommend when/if this situation happens.
So small and so deep is so necessary, thank you Alexandra to remind us and how it serves as support when the biggest muscles are injured
We talked about this in YTU training today — how in rare cases it can be risky to roll the QL because if, for whatever reason, the multifidi (and tranverse abdominis) are not firing, the QL is probably picking up some serious slack and getting it to relax might leave the spine in a vulnerable position. Anyway, I was like “multifi..what?…” Now I know — thanks!
I have only been thinking about the multifidi in my neck, and not as a chain running the length of my spine. One more reason to incorporate twists and spinal lengthening exercises.
Hi Alex, You described my back so accurately! Fascinating how the brain shuts down to deal with the pain which then causes such a ripple effect. It takes some serious tuning in and tuning up each morning to reacquaint my body and back. I also recognize the importance of daily revolved abdominal pose in helping strengthen my multifidi.
Thanks, Alex. I feel that the multifidi are seldom addressed by instructors. I experienced a similar scenario when the brain sent signals to the opposite hip to compensate for the one that was injured while leaning in during my patient care work!
Thanks Alex! It seems the multifidi are seldom addressed. I found a similar relation to the brain sending signals to the opposite hip to compensate for pain when I am leaning in to assist my patients!
Very interesting article about the multifidi and their function in our spine. Even more interesting how the brain deals with injury by not acknowledging it and then using other muscles to take over. I think multifidi are very important to me and how my body functions and I am discovering this in the YTUTT when I tried doing revolved abdominal pose. I notice that I am taking it mostly in my core and neck. Time, I guess, to really investigate and unearth the multifidi. This is about to get good!