Spine Care

The Spinal Muscles: An Extensive Guide

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The spinal muscles and ligaments work in conjunction to help support the spine, maintain an upright posture, and control movements during activity and rest. The muscles are named based on shape, location, or combination. Further categorization factors include muscle functions like flexion, extension, or rotation. Skeletal muscle is a form of striated muscle tissue that is voluntarily controlled by the somatic nervous system. Striated means it is striped in appearance. Most skeletal muscles are attached to bones by collagen fibers known as tendons.

Vertebral Muscle Types Location
Forward flexors Anterior
Lateral flexors Lateral
Rotators Lateral
Extensors Posterior

It has the fastest contraction rate of all muscles. Before muscle/s contracts, a nerve impulse starts in the brain and runs through the spinal cord to the muscle. For the muscles to contract and work properly, they need energy/fuel. Mitochondria produce Adenosine triphosphate chemical cells that are needed for energy. Adenosine triphosphate is made as the mitochondria burn glucose or sugar. The blood vessels deliver the oxygen and nutrients the mitochondria need to maintain a steady supply of adenosine triphosphate.

The Posterior Cervical and Upper Thoracic Spinal Muscles

  1. Semispinalis Capitus – controls the head rotation and backward pulls
  2. Iliocostalis Cervicis – extends the cervical vertebrae
  3. The Longissimus Cervicus – extends the cervical vertebrae
  4. Longissimus Capitus – controls the head’s rotation and backward pulls
  5. Longissimus Thoracis – controls the extension/lateral flexion of the vertebral column and rib rotation
  6. Iliocostalis Thoracis – controls the extension/lateral flexion of the vertebral column and rib rotation
  7. Semispinalis Thoracis – extends and rotates the vertebral column

Muscles of the Spinal Column

Cervical muscles

Cervical Muscles Function Nerve
Sternocleidomastoid Extends rotates the head and flexes the vertebral column C2, C3
Scalenus Flexes and rotates the neck Lower cervical
Spinalis Cervicis Extends and rotates the head Middle/lower cervical
Spinalis Capitus Extends and rotates the head Middle/lower cervical
Semispinalis Cervicis Extends and rotates the vertebral column Middle/lower cervical
Semispinalis Capitus Rotates the head and pulls backward C1-C5
Splenius Cervicis Extends the vertebral column Middle/lower cervical
Longus Colli Cervicis Flexes the cervical vertebrae C2-C7
Longus Capitus Flexes the head C1-C3
Rectus Capitus Anterior Flexes the head C2, C3
Rectus Capitus Lateralis Bends the head laterally C2, C3
Iliocostalis Cervicis Extends the cervical vertebrae Middle/lower cervical
Longissimus Cervicis Extends the cervical vertebrae Middle/lower cervical
Longissimus Capitus Rotates the head and pulls backward Middle/lower cervical
Rectus Capitus Posterior Major Extends and rotates the head Suboccipital
Rectus Capitus Posterior Minor Extends the head Suboccipital
Obliquus Capitus Inferior Rotates the atlas Suboccipital
Obliquus Capitus Superior Extends and bends the head laterally Suboccipital

Thoracic Muscles

Thoracic muscles Function Nerve
Longissimus Thoracis Extension, lateral flexion of the vertebral column, and rib rotation Dorsal primary divisions of the spinal nerves
Iliocostalis Thoracis Extension, lateral flexion of the vertebral column, and rib rotation Dorsal primary divisions of the spinal nerves
Spinalis Thoracis Extends the vertebral column Dorsal primary divisions of the spinal nerves
Semispinalis Thoracis Extends and rotates the vertebral column Dorsal primary divisions of the spinal nerves
Rotatores Thoracis Extends and rotates the vertebral column Dorsal primary divisions of the spinal nerves

Lumbar muscles

Lumbar muscles Function Nerve
Psoas Major Flexes the thigh at the hip joint and the vertebral column L2, L3, sometimes L1 or L4
Intertransversarii Lateralis Lateral flexion of the vertebral column The ventral primary division of the spinal nerves
Quadratus Lumborum Lateral flexion of the vertebral column T12, L1
Interspinales Extends the vertebral column Dorsal primary divisions of the spinal nerves
Intertransversarii Mediales Lateral flexion of the vertebral column Dorsal primary divisions of the spinal nerves
Multifidus Extends and rotates the vertebral column Dorsal primary divisions of the spinal nerves
Longissimus Lumborum Extends and rotates the vertebral column Dorsal primary divisions of the spinal nerves
Iliocostalis Lumborum Extension, lateral flexion of the vertebral column, and rib rotation Dorsal primary divisions of the spinal nerves

Muscle Fascia Fibrous Tissue

  • Fascia is the thickened connective tissue that surrounds a muscle or muscle group. Superficial fascia is directly under the skin.
  • Epimysium surrounds the skeletal muscle.
  • Perimysium is the sheath that groups the muscle fibers into bundles.
  • Endomysium is another type of connective tissue that sheaths each muscle fiber.

The cause of back pain and spinal muscle spasm/s can be caused by overuse, automobile accident, personal, work, or sports injury. The root cause of muscle spasm/s is usually a consequence of an injury to a structure within the lumbar spine. If there have been one or more episodes of muscle spasm in the low back, chances are it will re-occur. The muscles in the low back work together with the abdominal muscles. The spinal muscles add stability by maintaining an erect spine and maintaining balance.


Back Pain Specialist

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The information herein on "The Spinal Muscles: An Extensive Guide" is not intended to replace a one-on-one relationship with a qualified health care professional or licensed physician and is not medical advice. We encourage you to make healthcare decisions based on your research and partnership with a qualified healthcare professional.

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