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  • Dr. Norbert Martin, DPT

Erector Spinae Muscles and Back Pain

Updated: Feb 19, 2023




Back pain is a common problem for many people and can often be attributed to dysfunction of the erector spinae muscles. The erector spinae muscles are a group of muscles located on either side of the spine which help to extend, rotate, and laterally flex the spine. This muscle group consists of the iliocostalis, longissimus, and spinalis muscles, which can be further divided into the thoracis, cervicis, and lumborum groups. Dysfunction of these muscles can lead to increased tension in the spine and result in back pain.


In many cases, back pain is caused by improper posture or lack of mobility in the spine. When the spine is not well supported and/or lacks proper movement, the erector spinae muscles become overused and tight. This excess tension can cause irritation and inflammation of the soft tissue around the spine, leading to back pain. In some cases, back pain is caused by weakened erector spinae muscles. Weakness in the erector spinae muscles can result from prolonged periods of inactivity or from an underlying medical condition. When these muscles are weak, the spine is unable to properly support the body’s weight, leading to excessive strain on the muscles and surrounding soft tissues. This strain can then lead to pain and discomfort.



The good news is that there are ways to prevent and alleviate back pain caused by dysfunction of the erector spinae muscles. One of the most important steps is to practice good posture. The spine should be kept in its natural alignment at all times to ensure optimal support. Regular stretching and core strengthening exercises can also help to maintain flexibility and strength of the muscles, while cardiovascular exercise can help to improve overall circulation and reduce muscle tension.



Strengthening

Strengthening exercises such as back extensions, dead-lifts, bent-over rows, pull-ups, planks, and crunches can help to strengthen the erector spinae muscles and reduce the risk of injury.



1. Back extensions involve lying on your stomach and using your spine to lift your upper body off the floor. 
2. Dead lifts involve picking up a weight from the floor by bending your knees and maintaining a flat back. 
3. Bent-over rows involve holding a weight in both hands and pulling it up towards your chest while keeping your back straight. 
4. Pull-ups involve taking hold of a bar and raising your body towards the bar. 
5. Planks involve getting into a prone position and holding your body straight with your weight on your forearms and toes. 
6. Crunches involve lying on your back and flexing your trunk to raise your head and shoulder blades off the floor. 


Perform these exercises correctly to ensure safety and proper form.

Start at a level that is comfortable and gradually increase weight and intensity as your strength increases.




Stretching

The best stretches for back pain include cat-cow pose, child's pose, cobra pose, and spinal twists.


1. Cat-cow pose involves alternating between arching your back and rounding it by moving your head and tail bone up and down. 
2. Child's pose involves sitting back on your heels with your forehead resting on the floor.
3. Cobra pose involves lying on your stomach then lifting your chest off the floor while keeping your hips on the ground. 
4. Spinal twists involve lying on your back and twisting your torso from side to side while keeping your legs straight. 


Remember to work within your own range of motion and comfort level when stretching to avoid any injury.


If you are experiencing persistent back pain, please see a physician or physical therapist to receive a proper diagnosis and treatment plan.




In conclusion, proper posture, stretching, and strengthening exercises can help to alleviate and prevent back pain caused by dysfunction of the erector spinae muscles. While back pain can be a debilitating condition, it is possible to reduce the symptoms by making lifestyle changes and engaging in regular exercise.





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