I once heard a man say “having means nothing, unless you know how to use it”. While this man was referring to his personal ownership of an Olympic sized pool in his backyard, which he never used because he didn’t know how to swim, the same can be said of our bodies. While we possess these amazing physical vessels, albeit some functioning on all cylinders and others barely running on one, most of us lack a true understanding of how our human architecture actually works. The more we learn and understand the inner working of our bodies, even just beginning with basic functions and anatomy, the stronger the foundation of connection that will lead us to more fully and inhabit our bodies to their own optimal ability.
I would like to take this opportunity to introduce you to the multifidi – the deepest layer of muscles that run alongside the spine. This small but powerful group of muscle fibers span the length of the spine, starting at the posterior surface of the sacrum close to the midline of the spine and run up the vertebral column to end at the base of the skull. These thick but short muscles have multiple insertion points along the spinous process of each vertebra.
The multifidi provide stability and support to the spinal column, allowing each vertebra to work optimally and safeguard against spinal joint degeneration. By keeping the spine upright and in alignment (maintaining the gentle lordotic curve in the low back) these muscles aid in taking pressure off vertebral discs and distributing body weight along the entire spine. Maintaining the extension of the low back is crucial since this is the base that the skeletal system rests upon and affects your posture when sitting and standing, which in turn affects the tension of muscles, ligaments and tendons. The health, stability and strength of the multifidi is of utter importance, as they control the positioning of the spinal vertebra relative to each other and the sacrum. This also stabilizes the spinal column during back bending (extension), lateral bending (lateral flexion and extension) and rotation of the spine, simple motions that you perform daily.
Even though these muscles are small they are always one step ahead of the action. The multifidi have a keen psychic ability to contract, becoming activated (protecting the spine and preparing it for movement) before any action has begun. Keeping in mind that everything is connected and no muscle is an island, the mutfifidi must call upon its neighbors and friends to bring strength, stability and mobility to the spine. The transverse abdominus and multifidi have an oppositional relationship that helps to provide stability and strength as the torso lifts, twists and extends. Both of these muscles, as well as the muscles of the pelvic floor, inner thigh muscles, and deep hip rotators aid in maintaining a properly functioning core.
The importance and significance of the multifidi would have one believe that this muscle group is engaged throughout our daily activities, but the reality is that they are some of the most underused muscles of the human body. While intention and imagery can be brought into any exercise or daily routine to aid activation of the area or the particular muscle that is being targeted, for me, nothing could help until I actually knew that I had it! Once I discovered I had these amazing muscles and that I could harness the power of my multifidi to heal my low back dysfunction, I felt empowered through self care and encouraged to learn more in order to maintain a pain free lifestyle.
Stay tuned for my follow up post on Friday with tips and YTU poses that empowered me to maintain a strong healthy spine.
Okay, I am so curious now about these guys I never knew existed!!! Low back is an issue for me… off to read & research more!
It’s important to understand, and appreciate, those core stabilizing muscles. We don’t see them, and for the most part, are not aware of them until something goes wrong. Knowing how are body is built and works, goes a long way to being pain free.
I never considered these muscles the most underused and I imagine that is a good point of reference when dealing with imbalances and chronic tightness or immobility. They for sure are one of the most focused upon in so many with low back dysfunction.
As someone with chronic low back pain, I appreciate the clarity on not only the role of the multifidi in the body, but the intimate relationship they share with the TVA. I’ve seen them in the anatomy book I’m reading but haven’t quite had full clarity of the size and scope of things they contribute to.
Thanks for this informative introduction to the multifidi group of muscles. It is interesting to learn how the multifidi protects the spine and prepares it for movement before any action has even begun. I am continuously amazed at the intricate workings of the body.
Thank you for sharing the insights about this muscle. I really did not know its true worth. Thats very well said that some of the smallest or underrated muscles are the ones that are very crucial to stability and multifidi being one of them. Will surely read your next post on healthy spine.
”No muscle is an island, everything is connected”, thank you for this amazing reminder. I want to learn more about these tiny but powerful muscles, I can’t believe they are some of the most underused.
Great information to tap into something quite foundational to our well being. Thanks
I am fascinated by the small muscles which are not talked about but hold bigger jobs in stablibity and movement than we think. The multifidi prepares the spine for movement which is amazing. Great article to bring back discussions involving muscles like these.
Our bodies are amazing!!
Very well explained!
I love the “psychic ability” of this muscle…
This is awesome that the body does all of it without our conscience…
Imagine what he can do with it?!
Thank you so much!
Great explanation. Very interesting. Have heard the term used in yoga training anatomy but never quite got it. Thank you
We have been talking about the multipfidi in my Tune Up 1 training and I was having a hard time understanding how they are interwoven with the rest and what their function was. This was very helpful in helping me understand which DOM’s they assist and how integrated they are. I did NOT know they prevented degeneration. It’s crazy to me that they are so underused AND that they engage just by thinking about moving (that psychic ability you mentioned). Thank you for this post, made my day.
We have been talking about the multipfidi in my Tune Up 1 training and I was having a hard time understanding how they are interwoven with the rest and what their function was. This was very helpful in helping me understand which DOM’s they assist and how integrated they are. I did NOT know they prevented degeneration. It’s crazy to me that they are so underused AND that they engage just by thinking about moving (that psychic ability you mentioned). Thank you for this post!
Hi Tamara, thanks for the detailed info. I loved your comment and imagery that ‘everything is connected, no muscle is an island’. It is so true but something many forget. As I delve deeper into anatomy the smaller muscles are beginning to peak my interest and the Multifidi are most definitely one of them. Small but mighty and such an intricate design supporting the entire vertebral column.
Thank you for sharing this lesson. I have a weak low back which I believe is from an unstable SI joint. I’m really just learning now about core engagement and all the muscles that are involved to develop stability. I had never heard of multifidi until now. I try to take extra time in setting up to lift heavy weight from the ground. I extend the spine to activate the muscles along the spine right before the lift. Now I know that multifidi is a component of this and can bring this awareness to any setup involving heavy lifts.
This was a great article for me to ready today, I believe in that psychic ability to turn on when needed and also the need to connect our awareness to just that.
As someone who suffers from low back pain, you definitely peaked my interest. I too will start to seek out more ways to activate these small but powerful muscles and hopefully find some relief that way. It’s incredible that we don’t even know our own bodies and it’s who/what we spend all of our time with!
Curious that a group of muscles that span such a large and important part of our body are never discussed. Thank you for this reminder. I will devote some time to considering these muscles further.
My life has changed since 2 days 😉 I just discovered the Tubular Core and the benefits on the spine. I was always working with my abs and the front of my body; not the back and all the way around. Often, it changes my way to do a lot of posture because my ribs are open and I never felt it. Thanks for your sharing!!
amazing how I am learning how important core strength is and affects everything wow…..interesting read
I loved this article because it brings in the relationship between many muscles and the idea around “the core”. Most people define the core to be the front tummy muscles where in fact it’s compiled of 4 parts: your transverse, pelvic floor, multfifdi and your diaphragm. When all of these are working in unison with breath and proper muscle recruitment, the core: front of your body (transverse) AND back of your body (multifidi) work together.
Imagery: I picture the multifidi acting as a long flowing, flexible, french braid running down the back attached to the spine. As you move through space the braid reflects and mimic’s your movement.
Super interesting post. Yoga is so much about bringing awareness to what we are not aware of. Your post has peaked my interest to explore these small and powerful muscles. I’m getting to work to wake these babies up. Thanks Tamara.
The multifidi consists of a number of fleshy and tendinous fasciculi, which fill up the groove on either side of the spinous processes of the vertebrae, from the sacrum to the axis. While very thin, the multifidus muscle plays an important role in stabilizing the joints within the spine. These muscles are extremely important to use the yoga tune-up balls to release any built up tension, allowing the spine to be more stable.
Thanks Tamara. You have really peaked my interest to know more about the multifidis muscles, especially their attachments at the sacrum. I also want to know more about the relationship to the pelvic floor – that mystery area we don’t fully understand the functioning of! Juliet’s mention of Doug Kellr’s cat walk does sound intriguing as well.
Very informative about the functional value of the multifidi. A goal in many of my yoga classes is to bring awareness to the individual vertebra in spinal movement to help create more mobility in my students’ spines. The multifidi apparently play a huge roll in this. Thank you for this information.
Thank you for such a great explanation of multifidi muscles. I find reading about different we don’t cover in our training very helpful.
Thank you for enlightening us on the multifidi. Studying anatomy is such an ongoing process. I am constantly learning something new with every review. Learning that the multifidi are the only muscles that lie across the posterior surface of the sacrum. This paints a much bigger picture of the role the multifidi play in supporting the torso in lateral movement of the vertebral column.
This blog peaked my interest because Multifidi are often just lumped in with “the erectors.” After reading this I pulled out my Trail Guide and took a closer look at the Multifidi and Rotatores. It just never ceases to amaze me how awesomely complex we are and the power we have to “heal” ourselves as we learn about and embody ourselves more!
Thanks for bringing attention to multifidi and it’s function in daily life. I also was unaware of this muscle. I have had some low back issues for the last few years. Looking forward to your follow up post with spine strengthening tips..
As a chronic low back pain sufferer with a mild scoliosis, I can sympathize. The multifidi act mostly on reflex, it’s hard to consciously control them, although they are skeletal muscles. I’ll try the “cat walk” exercise that Juliet suggested!
These are muscles I don’t hear very much about, thank you for introducing them. I can see how these muscles play a key role in distributing body weight and keeping us out of back pain.
Thank you for the detailed explanation of what the multifidi is and what it does! This is something that I am really becoming aware of while at YTU Training – how much just KNOWING your body affects your ability to use it more optimally and to sense how it is being used in someone else.
I think the importance of the spine in our body for movement and health gets overlooked. I am excited to meet and learn to strengthen my multifidi. Thank you for the inspiration. I think it is incredible that they know to contract before you even move.
This is an idea I have been getting into a lot lately! There are so many muscles that do not turn on “naturally” and become lazy with out corrective work. I have been relearning how to fire my glutes in proper sequencing (in relationship to my low back and hamstrings) to fix some major low back pain issues. It is amazing to see how the multifidi plays such huge role – especially the relationship it has to the TVA. I wasn’t aware how intricately the multifidi was involved as I thought it was solely the erector spinae muscles and the QL doing lateral flexion. Learning more about this muscle to help stabilize the spine and prevent dysfunction is a great tool to aid with back pain and something I hope to focus on more in daily life!
This is great information. Thanks for the post. Doug Keller taught me an awareness exercise he called “cat walk” where the student starts in table and the partner touches each vertebrae starting around L5 and working up to around T12. As the partner touches the vertebrae the student tries to lift into the touch in essence trying to lift one vertebrae at a time in a true cat stretch. Doing this was the first time I really felt where the multifidi in my low spine really were! Such an important muscle for stabilizing the spine.
Thank you for this post. It was very interesting how they are always one step ahead of the action. I was very interested in what exercises toned and strengthened them. By searching I found a few -Superman prone keeping torso on floor (you can do both arms and legs or variation) and opposite arm- leg from table top with variations as well.
Thanks for highlighting the Multifidi muscles and its contribution in helping the spine to articulate. Using the YTU Therapy ball (stripping) alongside the spinal column, could be an effective way to engage these muscles.
Thank you for highlighting this muscle and following up with a clear, easy to understand explanation regarding its placement and function.
Thanks for bringing awareness to this muscle group. I can honestly say this is a bling spot for me as well. Knowing about these muscles and their connection and relationship to the core, inner thigh muscles, pelvic floor and hip rotators, makes such a stronger case for full core integration and embodiment. I love it! I have a client who has struggled with low back pain for years and I’m excited to introduce her to the multifidi. This gives me so much more to work with with her.
So true, the multifidi is often over looked when the back is discussed. The relationship of the TA and the mulitfidi both need our attention for congruency/harmony to happen in the tubular core. I look forward to reading more movement ideas to help us harness the energy of these intuitive muscles
Great post. I just learned today that while these tiny muscles are deep in the spine, you can access them by rolling the sacrum. I had never thought that you could give the multitudinous some tune-up attention.
Great article. It is so important to realize as you said, “no muscle is an island”, we are all interconnected. That is such a great reminder that many of us forget.
Really appreciate your contribution! Thanks so much from my heart and lower back!
Thanks for the post. I had never even heard of the multifidi (great name!) =)
Wow! What a great post Tamara! Thank you for shining a light on these important and amazing muscles – the MULTIFIDI! Given how much we sit all day, is it any wonder that they are some of the most underused muscles in the body. The fact that the multifidi have a “keen psychic ability to contract before any action has begun” is quite remarkable. How do they know to contract BEFORE movement has begun??? I look forward to learning more about these ‘wonder’ muscles and what poses will help tone and strengthen them.