The erector spinae play a significant role in the development of a stronger, healthier person. Your erector spinae are the layers of muscle that run along both sides of your spine from your lower back all the way to your head. To more clearly define what our “core” consists of, your spinal erectors are a major player in a strong core. They aid in extension of our back, lateral flexion, and rotation. Simply put, our spinal erectors help us keep our backs straight during a dead lift in weight training or hold us steady in handstand in yoga.
The erector spinae group is made up of three main muscles, the spinalis most medially next to the spine, the longissimus in the center the main muscles of the erector group, and the iliocostalis muscle is located laterally. When these muscles are tight or overused you are likely to feel discomfort in your back, ilium or sacrum.
What I have found working with a number of students with chronic hip and lower back pain, is after a while, the corresponding shoulder also destabilizes. So I have been looking to find what is connecting it all together.
The main attachment of the iliocostalis is to the ilium and ribs. Because of its lateral position, a tight iliocostalis can hitch your hip up, or bring the ribcage down toward the hip. If this movement becomes a long term dysfunction, the contracted iliocostalis may start to cause issues further up the line showing up in the shoulder or even the neck.
The thoracolumbar fascia also covers the erector spinae. This webbing covers the deep muscles of the back of your torso. According to Tom Myers (author of Anatomy Trains) this makes up the superficial back line. Now this is where it gets interesting.
The superficial back line consists of a line of fascia that starts at the plantar surface (bottom) of the foot and then it travels up the entire posterior (back) side of the body, moving up over the head and finishes at the brow bone. The function of this line is to extend the body. It brings the body into an erect an upright position and gives it strength.
However, if there is dysfunction somewhere along the fascia line with the pelvis, it will have implications and referrals to other parts of the body such as your shoulder. Using Myers’ theory, we see the correlation between the hip and shoulder through the connecting tissues of the iliocostalis and fascia.
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I recently Worked with a muscle activation Therapist for or shoulder and hip just comfort on opposite sides. During exploration exploration, comma we discovered that my my ribs were out of alignment. The therapist worked on all the muscles that connect to my ribs Including my iliocostalis. . After working working on these different muscle grips, range of motion to my shoulder returned, and my hip had greater flexion and extension.. This is a very interesting connection. Similar to what the author describes.
Amanda, great article! As a massage therapist I have worked a lot on hyper-toned Iliocoastalis muscles and take into consideration the impact on the ribs and pelvis, but I hadn’t thought about the shoulder. Thanks for the insight.
“””The main attachment of the iliocostalis is to the ilium and ribs. Because of its lateral position, a tight iliocostalis can hitch your hip up, or bring the ribcage down toward the hip. If this movement becomes a long term dysfunction, the contracted iliocostalis may start to cause issues further up the line showing up in the shoulder or even the neck.””””
Is there anyway to fix this? Please let me know if possible…Thanks!
This article helps to make sense that when you roll the bottom of your feet it helps start a chain reaction all the way up to your head. Keeping strength in the iliocostalis is important but understanding here that tightness here can cause shoulder and hip issues make so much sense. Thanks.
This is great! I have never heard an instructor address this, and it makes a lot of sense! I’ve not considered this before. Thank you for the reminder to research, consider, and look at the whole body!
Great article. I appreciated how easy it was to connect the dots. I hadn’t considered addressing this muscle when it comes to pain in the lumbar and it makes so much sense. I find it truly fascinating when we look at how the body is all interconnected.
Fabulous article! It always fascinates me how connected we are from head to toe. I never would have thought to consider the iliocostalis when assessing shoulder pain.
This article has enlightened me, because I, myself, have been suffering from this condition of shoulder and back pain and rib pain ipsilaterally. Although, I can point to many of the affected muscle, I never considered the iliocostalis. It ties it all together. Thanks!
My job requires a lot of lateral flexion of the spine and since having a baby, I’ve always had pain (and weakness) on the right side. I’ve spent a long time wondering where it stems from and the erector spinae seems to be the imbalance here. I’ve been focusing on strengthening larger muscle groups yet still have the same twinges of pain and overall weakness. I know that I had a lot of hip pain (possibly due to an imbalance there) during childbirth which I’m still working on but thanks to your article, I see the big picture of the interconnected-ness of the muscles of the back with the hip. Thanks again.
I really like how your article demonstrates how interconnected everything in the body is to one another and therefore shows how we need treat the body holistically instead of focusing on one aspect.
Thanks for describing the relationship between the dysfunction in range of movement in the hips and the shoulders. I was unaware of the role that the erector spinae played. I’ve worked with a parent who described the sensation of one hip being higher than the other and she attributed it to carrying her baby on a preferred hip. Your article and Jill’s video on asymmetrical uttanasana provide another way to think about her concerns.
“The foot bones connected to the brow bone”, sing along! Yes it is! This is article is a nice reminder of that facial connection. I love flexing a partners foot and watching the head rock. Also, thought provoking reminder to consider the deeper back muscles as culprits in functional limitations.
Having experienced plantar fasciitis, lower back pain and shoulder issues, it’s good to be reminded that all things are connected.
Fabulous article – extremely informative. I’ve been referring to this entire group as the “erectors”, but with the help of your article I think the individual names finally sunk in. The superficial back line explanation is incredibly helpful as well. A lot to look for when addressing misalignment and/or pain.
I loved reading your post about the erector spinae group. Whenever my back gets tight, I will add the erector spinae group to one of the places I will do self-massage with the YTU therapy along these muscles. I would like to get to that thoracolumbar fascia.
For the longest time, when the word “core” was used, I always looked to my abdominals. “Strengthen your core” “Engage your core” “Activate your core muscles” Yes, yes, I hear what they said, my abdominals are engaged! …And then I slowly learned that the CORE also entails my back muscles “somehow,” but this article really demonstrated that “somehow,” and gave me an a-ha! moment. I have been practicing handstands for a while now, and it’s interesting to know that my spinal erectors play the role in holding me steady!! Perhaps knowing this, I’ll be able to hold a handstand for longer than a second, and without a wall! And it is so fascinating that my fascia begins at my plantar fascia through the entire posterior of the body to my brow bone!!! It makes me want to do a full body roll on my Yoga Therapy balls, from head to toe! Thank you for a great article, and also including the picture of the iliocostalis showing how our muscles are interconnected to our bones! Loved it.
Hi Amanda, Thank you for your contribution to my never ending learning. Today my class will roll out their feet first , foundation, foundation , foundation ! Nancy x
Very interesting. I have found that when my lumbar fascia is overly tight and my back is achy- I use the therapy balls to release the lumbar fascia and my shoulder tension will also soften which seems to me a confirmation of this lumbar shoulder link.
Wow, so it begins in the feet and goes all the way up to the head. Thank you so much for this. It makes me want to pay attention to every step and monitor my posture like never before. And stop wearing crappy shoes, even if I think they’re cute.
Hey Kevyn, thanks for you comment. Using the Yoga Tune Up Therapy Balls makes such a huge difference in hydrating the tissues. Its great to hear you have a super support network. Nothing feels better than breathing 🙂
Love the full body connection here. My serratus posterior superior as been locked and adhered to my erector spinae group for years. I’m only now, with the help of YTU and my awesome chiropractor, able to find better movement and breath in my thoracic region. Thank you for illuminating how it is all connected.
Hey Tao – nice connection linking the iliocostalis to the knee. Super excited to hear that targeting the iliocostalis and erector spinae helped relieve your knee pain. I love seeing this type of work in action.
Hi Dineen – thanks for making those connections. This is the really interesting stuff. When working with people with long term chronic pain and dysfunction I think we really need to look big picture and see where the relationships are and take holistic approach. I will have to make a trip to NYC so can geek out on this stuff some more. 🙂
Hey Kristin – I think you are spot on. Strengthening the iliocostalis could potentially give your swimmers more power in their stroke. Thanks for your comment.
This is such an eye-opener. I’m always so quick to blame my IT bands for any pain below the waist, but when i isolate the erector spinae and the iliocostalis with the tune-up balls, I’ve been treated to almost immediate relief around my hips, and consequentially, my knees. Excellent info!
I love how you explain about the connection to the shoulder from the hip, I have not thought of this it makes total sense. Maybe swimmers could use more back extension work!
Hi Amanda. I’m so glad you’ve written about the iliocostalis! Such an important muscle literally linking head to tail and then interacting with many muscles in between. I agree that it’s often implicated (yet rarely named!) in lumbar-pelvic pain so I’m thrilled you’re calling it out. All too often people point to their psoas or QL as the culprit but I often see iliocostalis (often coupled w lower trap and lat) dysfunction. Thanks! Dinneen (NYC)