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The Spinal Muscle Anatomy, Function and Common Injuries

Spinal Muscle Atrophy

The muscles of the spine are divided into three different regions: cervical (neck), thoracic (trunk), and lumbar (low back). The eighteen cervical, five thoracic, and eight lumbar muscles are each named for their function, location, and shape.

Some muscles lie just beneath the back muscles, while the others are situated at a deeper level. Each muscle is covered with a thick layer of connective tissue called the fascia, which provides protection. Every muscle is connected to bone by a ligament that helps control and support movement of the spine. All of the muscles are paired, with one on each side of the spinal column.

Spinal muscles are responsible for posture and carrying the weight of the upper body throughout regular activities. These muscles perform four distinct functions:

  • Muscles in the front (anterior) help the spine to flex forward
  • Muscles in the back (posterior) allow the spine to move into extension
  • Muscles on the side (lateral) aid with side flexion and rotation

Cervical muscles provide the following movements:

  • Extends, flexes, rotates, and pulls the head back as well as allowing it to bend to the side
  • Flexes, extends, and rotates the vertebral column
  • Flexes and rotates the neck

Thoracic muscles serve to:

  • Extend, laterally flex, and rotate the vertebral column
  • Rotate the ribs

The role of the lumbar muscles is to provide:

  • Thigh flexion at the hip
  • Vertebral column extension, lateral flexion, and rotation
  • Rib rotation

Back pain can often be caused by injury to the vertebral column muscles, as several of these are small and more prone to damage. Injuries can occur as a result of trauma or repetitive stress. In many instances, these injuries will heal with a combination of rest, heat and cold treatment, activity modification, and rehabilitation. A well-rounded therapeutic exercise program designed by a physical therapist will help to build strength and flexibility and reduce the risk of further injury.

If you have experienced a back injury and would like to learn about our treatment choices from one of our specialists, please contact our Seguin or New Braunfels offices.

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