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Erector Spinae? What's that?
The Erector Spinae (pronounced e-rec-tor speen-aye or e-rec-tor spinae-ee) is not just one muscle, but a complex group of muscles (combined with tendons) in the back. It extends through the lumbar, thoracic and cervical regions of the spine, and lies in the groove to the side of the vertebral column.
The Erector Spinae varies in size and structure — from narrow and pointed to thick and fleshy — depending on where it is located along the vertebral column. Different sections also have different names. 2
The muscular fibres form a large fleshy mass which splits in the upper lumbar region into three columns and are identified as:
- Laterally, the Iliocastalis muscles;
- Intermediate, the Longissimus muscles;
- Medially, the Spinalis muscles.
Functions of the Erector Spinae
The iliocostalis muscles help us to extend the spine and keep our posture erect if working together; they permit lateral bending if one side contracts.
The longissimus muscles assist in spinal extension and lateral flexion.
The spinalis muscles aid in spinal extension.
For definitions of flexion and extension, see Fitness Terms Dictionary or Planes of Movement.
Injuries of the Erector Spinae
The back is a complicated and intricate structure. Injuries can occur during daily activities like sports, gardening, or housework, or in a more serious situation like car accidents. The lower back is the most common site of back injuries and back pain. Common injuries include sprains and strains, but more serious injuries can include herniated disks and fractured vertebrae.
These injuries can limit your movement, and treatments will vary depending on the location and severity of the injury — from icing to bed rest to physiotherapy to surgery.
Back injuries — and particularly lower back injuries — are more likely if the abdominal muscles lack strength and endurance, so strong abdominal muscles are important. Some injuries might be prevented by maintaining a healthy weight, lifting objects with your legs and using lower-back support when you sit.
Exercises for the Erector Spinae
Here are four exercises which will help strengthen the Erector Spinae (choose the weight size which is most appropriate for your situation):
- Bent-Over Row (supported): Place your left hand and knee on a bench (or a ball) and extend the right arm straight down with the dumbbell in your right hand, palm turned in. Your back should be flat. Lift the dumbbell to your shoulder and return to the starting position. Repeat 8-12 times.
- Dumbbell Deadlift: Begin in a standing position with the weights in your hands, palms facing in, arms straight. Bend the knees and go down into a squat, stopping when your thighs are parallel to the floor. (Arms do not change position.) Touch floor with your dumbbells, if possible, and return to a standing position. Repeat 8-12 times.
- Hyperextension: Lie on a mat face down. Place your forearms on top of each other, and your forehead on top of your forearms. Lift your forearms and head as high as you can go, keeping the legs on the floor. Repeat 8-12 times (however, this is one that you may want to try to reach 30 repetitions of, as you gain strength).
- Squat: The traditional squat is an extremely powerful and useful exercise for many muscles, but it is also a good back strengthening exercise. Stand tall, feet together, and bend the knees until you reach a point where your thighs are parallel to the floor. Hold for as long as you wish and return to a standing position. Repeat 8-12 times, or longer if you need to feel more fatigue in the muscles. (Variation: Stay “down” for 5-10 counts before returning to a standing position.)
Stretches for the Erector Spinae
- Lower Back Stretch: Lie on your back on a mat. Bring your knees up to your chest and wrap your arms around your knees. Pull your knees as close to your chest as you can and try to get the lower back off the mat (even a few millimetres is fine). Hold and release.
- Trunk Rotation: Lie on your back on a mat. Place your left foot on your right knee, keeping the right leg straight and the left leg bent. With the opposite hand pull the raised knee further towards the ground. Hold and release. (Those with osteopena and osteoporosis should be cautious with this stretch. Do not rotate the trunk too far.)
- Uttanasa (Forward Bend in Yoga): The photograph at the left (thanks to Wikipedia) says it all. This is another stretch that may be too difficult for anyone with osteopena, osteoporosis, and/or lower back pain (for whatever reason). Use your wise and sage judgement as to whether or not to do this one.
See also: Back Problems
For discussions of other muscles, see:
- The Abdominals
- The Adductors and Abductors: Muscles in the Thigh
- The Deltoids: The Shape of the Shoulder
- The Forearm, Elbow, and Wrist
- The Glutes
- The Hamstrings: Back of the Thigh
- The Hip Flexors
- Latissimus Dorsi: The Lats
- The Lower Leg: The Calf and the Shin
- Muscle Cramps and Other Injuries
- Muscles of the Head
- The Muscular System: How it Works
- Opposing Muscles
- Pectoralis Major and Minor: The Pecs
- The Quadriceps: The Front of the Thigh
- Taking Care of your Feet
- The Trapezius and the Rhomboids
- The Upper Arm: The Biceps and the Triceps
I am a BCRPA-certified fitness instructor in Vancouver, BC. I teach four classes at the West End Community Centre in Vancouver, BC, mostly designed for the older adult. The Inevitable Disclaimer: Everything published here expresses only my opinion, based on my training and research. What you do with the information is entirely your own responsibility. I am not liable for any injury you suffer that seems to be related to anything you read here. Always consult your doctor before beginning an exercise program. For other articles, return to the table of contents.