Yoga Tune Up® Blog


The Multifidi – Your Under Underwear, Part 1

By: | Friday, February 18th, 2011 | Comments 19

The multifidi are deep to (they live underneath) your erector spinae.  Those are your strong cords, the big mamas running parallel to the spine that cause the gullies (laminal grooves) that lie directly next to your vertebra (spine bones).  You can get up close and personal with your multifidi by sticking your fingers in those long laminal grooves.  You can also poke at the multifidi that cover your sacrum (where your spine and pelvis intersect).

So the multifidi run from your sacrum to the third vertebra of your neck (about two clicks under your skull).  They’re essentially lacing the different surfaces of your vertebral arches (the bony projections that sprout off your vertebral discs) to one another.  Each multifidus inserts into (ends at) the spinous process living two to four vertebrae higher than its origin (or start).  Think of it like a corset.

Picture, please!

The multifidi lace up the spine much like a corset.

The corset analogy is apt, because the multifidi are essential in maintaining the posture of the spine.  Our superficial multifidi keep the spine erect, while our deep multifidi are about stability.  I learned from a mcr.coreconcepts.com article that the two sets of multifidi are activated BEFORE any action that involves the core.  For instance, if you’re about to pick up something, the mulitifidi start to contract before you actually move to prepare the spine for the movement and to keep it safe.

So what are the multifidi like?  They’re fleshy and tendinous bundles of skeletal muscle fibers wrapped in connective tissue, known as fascicles.  Ann Archer in her About.com article describes the multifidi as short stiff muscle fibers packed inside a long finger-like covering, and cites recent research that shows this particular construction is responsible for the extra strength and support the multifidus gives to the spine.  According to Andrew Biel’s Trail Guide To The Body, the fibers of these muscles “form an intricate stitchlike design that links the vertebrae together,” and he contrasts their short, diagonal fibers to the long, vertical fibers of the erector spinae.  When the multifidi contract on one side of the spine, they rotate the vertebral column to the opposite side.

(Actually, if you want to know, they resist the spinal flexion (or bend) that would be caused by the contraction of the abdominal muscles that really power the twist.  Individually, your multifidi are more about the stability of your spine than the moving of it.  That’s from a Medscape.com article I found!)

Finally, when the multifidi on both sides of the spine fire, they extend the spine (Beil, page 206).

Jim Johnson, a physical therapist and author of THE MULTIFIDUS BACK PAIN SOLUTION, notes that “Your multifidi are active and working when you are:  standing still, bending forward, twisting to either side, picking or lifting things up, and walking.”  They’re also active if you side bend the spine while leaning it forward or back (i.e., if you’re flexing it to either side without being completely upright).  And finally, the multifidi are active if the spine backbends against resistance (Johnson, page 8).

That pretty much covers every single thing you’re going to do today.  As a deep stabilizer muscles, your multifidi are turned on most of your day.

Read part 2 of this article.

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Learn about Yoga Tune Up at home.


Image:  http://www.stephanie-spencer.com/category/multifidus/ (Stephanie Spencer)

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About This Author

Moved to teach after almost twenty years of study, Liz graduated from the 300-hour Jivamukti Yoga Teacher Training in May of 2005, completed the 800-hour Jivamukti Yoga Apprenticeship Program in 2006, and, in 2010, was awarded Advanced Certification. Liz teaches vigorous vinyasa classes in the Jivamukti tradition that leave the body sweaty and the mind free—and adventurous Yoga Tune Up classes that systematically explore every micro-region of the body. Liz's Yoga Tune Up classes incorporate movement from Hatha Yoga, calisthenics, body therapy and Pilates to systematically and intelligently prime each student’s body, mind and spirit.

19 Responses to “The Multifidi – Your Under Underwear, Part 1”

  1. Barbara Treves says:

    Very interesting to learn that the brain sends signals to the mutlifidi to contract BEFORE you start to move – kind of like a pilot yelling “brace yourselves!” before an impact. It also makes sense that given the tasks of keeping the spine supported while doing things like walking and sitting, that it would be turned on most of the time. Is there a way go get the Yoga TuneUp balls in there for a much needed massage!

  2. Emily says:

    Fascinating — and to think, I used to only be aware of these during upward facing bow pose…!

  3. Steeve says:

    Liz, I love being blindsided by amazingly brilliant material. Thanks so much for providing such an extensive list of your resources regarding the Multifidi.

    I for one, have never even heard of this muscle called the Multifidi. Now, I’m wanting to learn more. That said, with back pains being so prevalent in our society today, greater understanding of how our back is composed of can only lead to a greater understanding of our back pains.

    Brilliant! Thank you.

  4. Judy Swens says:

    Wow! I didn’t know of the importance of the multifidi, and how much it truly supports our every action. Excellent writing and much appreciation for referencing quotes, so I can “dig a little deeper”… Thanks again!

  5. Lisa Cassidy says:

    Thank you for a well thought out article filled with references! It is always great to get turned on to great nuggets of information but it is also great to have the resources listed for further digging. I am going to check out some of the links you provided and see what other gems I can find to add to my own tool kit!

  6. Heather Lindsay says:

    This is such a excellent article, I have nothing profound to say in response. Thank you for sharing and for all the research you put into this piece.

  7. [...] Tune Up® Blog « The Multifidi – Your Under Underwear, Part 1 Balls to the Wall, and the Blanket, and… [...]

  8. Sandy Byrne says:

    I so appreciate this well written blog about the multifidi and also that you sited your sources. I can’t wait to look into these muscles and explore deeper. There are so many layers so much excavating you have articulated this deep layer so well. I can’t wait to take this knowledge to my clients. I’d also like to say that the responses to these blogs have been just a beneficial as the writers. thank you everyone in the Yoga Tune Up community!

  9. I appreciate the analogy you make to the multifidi; that they interlace like the ties of a corset!Cool how they prepare and contract even before you perform the action that will recquire their work!
    Namaste, Silvia Marisol

  10. Angela says:

    So often we hear about the erector spinae but not the multifidi which is shocking as we are engaging them constantly! I have been enjoying using the Yoga Tune Up balls to “poke” at my multifidi the last couple of weeks! I’ve heard it referred to as the smallest yet most powerful muscle. It’s these series of muscles that allow for so many movements but also the stability of the entire vertebral column! Amazing!

  11. Alicia Wang says:

    I was attracted to the title of this blog! I love the idea of treating our musclulature like under-underwear to be honed in on an “cleaned,” “ironed,” and cared for like we do our undergarments. Ideally muscles should be cared for first then the actual act of putting on of our underwear would be facilitated.

  12. Kristin says:

    This is exactly why it feels so darn good to roll YTU balls up and down the sides of the spine. Absolutely everything is connected! Most people just think about the bones in the spine from top to bottom not the multifidis. Great for bringing this forward.

  13. Laura McIntire says:

    Super interesting Liz. I have been struggling with low back pain for 16 + years. I became a dedicated yogini trying to heal my own back- still not there yet but the pain sensations and symptoms have certainly undergone an evolution. One of the most consistent challenges I go through is seizing of the muscles along the left side of my lumbar spine any time I engage those muscles in extension- the most radical manifestation of this occurs during versions of cobra pose. Once the muscles along the lumbar seize up there is a ripple effect right up to the left side of my neck. I’ve gone through thinking the root cause of this trouble is left SI issues and that the erector spinae are the seizing culprits. My eyes are opening to the multifidi and the course they run from sacrum to the cervical vertebrae and the fairly recent research linking them to chronic low back pain.
    Hopefully I will find a solution since back bending provides great strengthening for the low back and amazing massage (belly backbends) and relief for the abdominal organs.

  14. Luisa says:

    As the initial panic and sense of being overwhelmed gradually begins to subside in my Yoga Tune Up teacher training course with Jill I am beginning to understand and appreciate how and why the body functions as it does. As I gradually begin to learn where each muscle is located and its purpose, this article brought additional clarification and appreciatiion. I especially like the analogy of the multifidi being compared to a corset.

  15. t'ai jamar says:

    I am sitting on my ball-desk chair…and they are fully engaged (thank god)…stabilizing and keeping me up.

  16. Nancy says:

    Thanks for the education on multifidis.

  17. Jess says:

    Wow, it seems like the Multifidi are the quintessential muscle that we want to strengthen and lengthen for yoga practice, especially now that I know that the Multifidi activates even before the core to keep it safe and that they actually extend the spine when firing on both sides simultaniously. these the “deepest” muscles to the spine?

  18. aziyza says:

    The detail actions of the multifidi shed light on imbalances I have noted in my body as well as in the bodies of clients- thinking of the corset picture will help me to cue the use of the yoga tune-up balls in a way that is clear to my students. The visuals are clear -and bring more understanding.

  19. Kyoko Jasper says:

    Hi Liz, wow, this is an amazing resource. I didn’t know the function of Multifidi. Now I can try to propriocept it in my yoga practice.
    Thanks for sharing!

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Jill Miller, Creator of Yoga Tune Up®

After studying yoga, movement, and the human body for over twenty years, I created Yoga Tune Up® as a simple way to restore my body and mind, keeping me balanced and free of pain. Using a specific and unique set of poses, movements and self massage tools, you too can LIVE BETTER IN YOUR BODY WITH YOGA TUNE UP®.

 

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