Muscle Of The Month – Multifidus

What is mutlifidus?

The multifidus muscle is one of the smallest yet most “powerful” muscle that gives support to the spine.  See the diagram below – muscle on the left. Multifidus muscle is actually a series of muscles that are attached to the spinal column. These series of muscles are further divided into two groups which include the superficial muscle group and the deep muscle group.


What do the multifidus muscles do?

The multifidus muscles help to take pressure off the vertebral discs so that our body weight can be well distributed along the spine. The superficial part of the  muscle  keeps our spine straight while the deep muscle group contributes significantly to the stability of our spine.

These two groups of multifidus muscles are recruited during many actions in our daily living, which includes bending backward, sideways and even turning our body to the sides. Studies have shown that the multifidus muscles are activated before any action is carried out in order  to protect our spine from injury.  When you are going to  carry something or before moving your arm, the mutifidus muscles will start contracting prior to the actual movement of the body and the arm to prepare the spine for the movement and prevent it from injury if the joints it protects  are allowed to move too far and thus sustain injury.

In recent years, many studies have been carried out to identify the relationship between back pain  and mutifidus. One such study was published in 2002 in the European Spine Journal. The objective of the study was to compare the level of back muscle activity in healthy controls and patients with low back pain during coordination, stabilisation and strength exercises. Electromyographic activities of the back muscles, in particular  multifidus muscles and the iliocostalis lumborum were measured when the subjects performed the exercises.

The results showed that multifidus activity is significantly less active  in those with low back pain, particularly those who have had back pain for a long time (chronic back pain) as compared to healthy subjects during the coordination exercises, indicating that over the long term, back pain patients have a reduced ability to voluntarily recruit the multifidus muscles in order to maintain a neutral spine position. When testing strength exercises, subjects with chronic low back pain had significantly lower multifidus muscle activity as compared to healthy subjects.

multifidus and abdomen

Possible explanations for this finding could be due to pain, pain avoidance and deconditioning leading to reduced multifidus activity. Hence, as you can imagine, when multifidus function is poor, one will be more susceptible to back injuries.

You can see from this picture how close multifidus is to the spine and this picture demonstrates how by lightly contracting the abdominal muscles, you should also co-contract mulfidus along with all the other surrounding muscles to stabilise the back. If multifidus does not co- contract as it should do then you can see that you will not have the spinal stability optimum for pain free movement.

How To Improve Multifidus Function

Most low back strengthening exercises will increase the strength of multifidus but as always, you need to do these exercises correctly. Come in to see us at The Avenue Clinic as any of the Chiropractors there will be able to demonstrate the exercises and watch you performing them, to ensure you are doing them correctly and really making the most of the exercises.