Erector Spinae Muscles…part 18 of the Grumbly Muscle blog…

What are ‘Erector Spinae’?

Well, they do what they say on the tin – they keep the spine erect. They’re a group of muscles, 3 in fact; Spinalis, Longissimus and Iliocostalis. Longissimus is, unsurprisingly, the longest of this group.

What do they do?

They are the spinal stabilizers. They work with another spinal muscle called multifidus.

They are mostly deep muscles that sit underneath rhomboids and trapezius when they head towards the shoulders but they’re quite palpable near the lumbar spine. They help us extend the back (along with assistance from the QL’s – quadratus lumborum). They control thoracic flexion, side flexion and rotation of the spine.


You have a set each side of the spine. They originate from the thoracolumbar aponeurosis (a large diamond shaped fascia at the base of the spine) and run to the top of the spin (see picture). The thoracolumbar aponeurosis also feeds into Glute Max and the Lats (latissimus Dorsi).

Why do they get grumbly?

These muscles do and will refer pain, especially in the lower part of the back. They can spasm, painfully, when they’re not happy. When multifidus isn’t ‘firing on all cylinders’ these take the brunt of the load but can’t ‘shoulder it’ alone. Compression of the vertebra increases and special nerve fibres which only transmit pain (nociceptors) start telling you ALL about it… et voila! – lower back pain…

What can we do about it?

Multifidus can be activated by activating the core muscles so a physical therapist like myself can advise what to do to achieve that. Deep tissue massage and soft tissue release work well and provide temporary relief. Dry needling of the erector spinae can relieve pain quite well and for longer periods than just massage and soft tissue alone. At home, heat either from a bath or hot water bottle can relax tight and overworked muscles and gentle stretching and lumbar mobility exercises.

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