Muscles of the Vertebral Column: Support & Movement

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  • 0:06 Vertebral Column
  • 1:14 Superficial Layer
  • 2:57 Deep Muscles
  • 4:50 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: John Simmons

John has taught college science courses face-to-face and online since 1994 and has a doctorate in physiology.

Did you know that lower back pain can be caused by injury to muscles attached to the vertebral column? This lesson identifies and describes the major erector spinae muscles responsible for erect posture and movement.

Vertebral Column

Did you know that Americans spend at least $50 billion a year on lower back pain? Lower back pain can be caused by a variety of problems, including injury to muscles attached to the vertebral column. Let's take a look at these muscles. If we peel away the trapezius and the latissimus dorsi muscle that are on the superficial part of the back, we can see the muscles responsible for our posture.

Superficial layer muscles of the erector spinae
Erector Spinae Superficial

The erector spinae is a group of muscles that work together to extend the vertebral column and thus maintain good posture. The muscles are innervated by the spinal nerves. Many of these muscles are small and therefore susceptible to injury. In this lesson, we will identify the specific erector spinae muscles in two layers: the superficial layer and the deep layer. It's important to note that all the muscles discussed in this lesson are paired - located on each side. While we will look at each muscle on one side, it is paired on the other side.

Superficial Layer

Let's look at the superficial erector spinae muscles first. These are located deep to the latissimus dorsi and the trapezius and divided into three groups. If you look at the lumbar and sacral regions down low, you can see these three muscle groups are pretty much non-distinct; they look as if they're one muscle. The groups separate at their superior attachments.

The spinalis group is most medial of the three, and it includes muscles that originate on vertebrae and insert on more superior vertebrae. The thoracis spinalis belongs to this group of muscles. With contraction, the spinalis muscles extend the neck and the vertebral column - once again, good posture.

The longissimus group of muscles helps to extend the neck and vertebral column, as these muscles originate on vertebrae and insert on more superior vertebrae and even some ribs. These are long muscles and thus named accordingly - for example, the longissimus thoracis.

The quadratus lumborum aids in lateral flexion of the vertebral column
Quadratus Lumborum

The _iliocostalis group is easy to remember due to its attachment. Many of these iliocostalis muscles - for example, the iliocostalis thoracis - originate on the ilium of the pelvic girdle and insert on the ribs, or the costal bones (thus, iliocostalis).

As with the spinalis and longissimus muscles, the iliocostalis muscles help to extend the neck and the vertebral column. Additionally, these muscles can move the ribs, as they're attached to the ribs.

Deep Muscles

Now that we've identified the superficial erector spinae muscles, we can look at what lies beneath. These muscles are many in number and small in size, and the small size makes them susceptible to injury. Let's take a look at two of the more prominent deep muscles.

The quadratus lumborum originates on the ilium and inserts on the last rib as well as lumbar vertebrae. When these muscles contract, they depress (or pull down) the ribs, and they also aid in lateral flexion of the vertebral column. Let me go back to a previous note: all of these muscles are paired. So when they contract together as a pair, they will extend the vertebral column. Now, if one side contracts while the other side relaxes, that's where we'll get bending - or as in this case, lateral flexion of the vertebral column.

The multifidus muscles extend and rotate the vertebral column

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