Rehabilitation & Recovery

6 Best Multifidus Muscle Exercises For Lumbar Rehabilitation

multifidus muscle exercises

If you suffer from lower back pain, incorporating multifidus muscle exercises into your week could help to alleviate symptoms.

The lumbar multifidus muscle is a small but important muscle that helps to support and stabilize your lumbar spine.  

When this muscle is weak or becomes injured, it can lead to a host of problems, including chronic low back pain and poor posture.


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Fortunately, there are a variety of exercises you can do to strengthen your multifidus muscle and core muscles.

These exercises can be done at home or in the gym and by performing them regularly and with proper form, you could begin to see a significant improvement to your back health.  

Before we consider the exercises, let’s look in more detail as the multifidus muscle.  

What Is The Multifidus Muscle?

multifidus muscle

The lumbar multifidus muscle forms part of the group of narrow muscles known as the erector spinae.  

It’s a deep-set muscle which runs down both sides of the spine and attached to the spinous processes of the lumbar vertebrae.  

The multifidus muscle CSA (cross-sectional area) is an important indicator of spinal stability.

It has been found that patients with chronic low back pain have a decreased multifidus muscle CSA.

This is known as multifidus muscle atrophy, which can lead to instability and dysfunction of the spinal column.

To prevent multifidus muscle atrophy, it’s important to engage in exercise programs that can activate and strengthen the multifidus muscle. 

bent over row

One method is to focus on exercises aimed at multifidus firing.

These exercises involve activating the multifidus muscle while performing movements that challenge the stability of the spinal column.  

The firing of the multifidus muscle is important to ensure you can maintain proper posture, spinal alignment, and stability during various movements. 

How Do I Strengthen My Multifidus Muscle?

To strengthen your multifidus muscle, you can perform a variety of exercises where you would adopt different positions that target these deep muscle groups.

These exercises can be done under the guidance of a physical therapist or as part of an exercise program.

lumbar back stretch

Before performing any of the below exercises, it’s a good idea to loosen up the multifidus muscle.  

Muscle weakness can lead to tightness and the formation of knots.  

By using something such as a spikey ball or a peanut roller, you can apply pressure to the muscle helping to 

Below are some exercises that you perform to target your multifidus muscle.

Bird Dog Exercise

The bird dog is considered a good exercise for working the multifidus muscle.  

This is because the movement comprises both anti flexion and anti rotation.  

It can help to improve stability and strength to the spinal muscles as well as activating your abdominal muscles.   

You can progress this exercise by wearing ankle and wrist weights.  

Bird Dog Stability Exercise
  1. Start on the floor in a prone position with your knees bent and resting on the palms of your hands.  
  2. Your hands should be underneath your shoulders and knees directly under your hips.   
  3. Brace your core and keep your spine in a neutral position.  
  4. Raise your right leg straight up and point your toe to the wall.
  5. At the same time, raise your left arm straight out in front of you.  
  6. Hold this position briefly before lowering both your arm and leg back to the starting position. 
  7. Repeat this movement but lifting your opposing limbs. 

Quadruped Hip Extension

Also referred to as the glute kickback, this exercise is excellent for working the entire core and can help to strengthen the multifidus muscle.  

It’s simple to perform and very low impact making it a good exercise for beginners.  

Quadruped Hip Extension
  1. Adopt the table top position on an exercise mat so your knees are under your hips and wrists in line with your shoulders.  
  2. Engage your core muscles and lift one foot off the ground and straighten out your leg behind you. 
  3. At the top of the movement squeeze your glutes and ensure your back remains straight.  
  4. Lower your leg back to the start and repeat with the opposite leg.  
  5. Ensure you complete an equal number of repetitions on each leg.  

Superman Exercise

The superman exercise is especially good to alleviate low back pain as well as helping to strengthen the erector spinae muscles.  

Superman Exercise
  1. Lie down on an exercise mat in a prone position. 
  2. Position your arms out in front of you and resting on your forearms.  
  3. Keep your chin tucked and neck long, don’t look up or down.  
  4. Slide your forearms down slightly as though pulling your elbows towards your feet.  This lowers your ribs slightly making the exercise more effective.  
  5. From here, raise both your arms, upper chest and feet away from the ground, raising all the limbs just a few inches. 
  6. Squeeze your shoulder blades together at the top of the exercise and then lower back down and repeat.  

Side Plank

The side plank is a great exercise to target your obliques and transverse abdominis.  

By working both sides you can also strengthen the multifidus on each side of your spine.  

Side Plank
  1. Start by lying down on your side and prop yourself up on your elbow. 
  2. Stack one leg on top of the other.  
  3. Squeeze your glutes and brace your core.  
  4. Raise your hips away from the ground until your body forms a straight line from head to feet.  
  5. Don’t arch or sag your hips and maintain this straight position holding for at least 30 seconds. 
  6. Repeat on the other side. 

Leg Lowering

Leg lowering is a low impact way of improving stability to your hip flexors and activating the deep stabilizing muscles of your core.  

When performed correctly it will also help to improve spinal stability and strength.  

Leg Lowering Exercise
  1. Start by lying on the ground with your arms down by your sides and with a slight bend to your knees. 
  2. Engage your core muscles and raise both legs until they are horizontal to the ground. 
  3. Press your lower back into the floor and raise one leg up vertically keeping the other leg outstretched in front of you
  4. Slowly and with control begin to lower the raised leg back towards the ground.  
  5. Just before your heels touch the floor, raise the alternate leg to the top of the movement. 
  6. Repeat this movement alternating legs making sure to keep your lower pressing into the floor throughout.  

Body Weight Squats

Squatting is a complex movement that activates many muscle groups throughout the body including the multifidus muscle.  

Good form is essential when performing a squat and it’s important that you keep your head and chest upright throughout whilst avoiding rounding of your low back.  

bodyweight squat balance
  1. Adopt a standing position with your feet around shoulder width apart. 
  2. Keep your toes pointing out slightly as this will allow you to squat deeper.  
  3. Hold your arms straight out in front or cross them over your chest. 
  4. Push back your glutes and bend your knees so you begin to descend into a squat. 
  5. Make sure you keep your head and chest up. 
  6. Aim to squat down until your upper legs are parallel to the floor (or lower if you can). 
  7. Pause briefly then push through your heels to power back up to the standing position.  

Remember to always consult with a physical therapist or healthcare professional before starting any new exercise program.

With consistent practice and proper form, these exercises can help strengthen your multifidus muscle and improve overall spine stability.

Research On Multifidus Muscle Exercises

A systematic review has shown that exercises specifically targeting the multifidus muscle can be effective in reducing pain and improving function for those suffering from low back pain.  

What’s more, magnetic resonance imaging studies determine that these exercises can increase the size and activation of the multifidus muscle, which is important when it comes to stabilizing the spine.

Recent studies have also investigated the best protocols for performing multifidus muscle exercises.

One study protocol involved isometric contractions of the multifidus muscle at 30% of the maximum voluntary isometric contraction for 10 seconds, repeated 10 times. 

Another study used real-time ultrasound to help guide the exercises, ensuring that the multifidus muscle was being activated as it should.  

Previous studies have also found significant differences in the activation of the multifidus muscle between the upper and lower extremities, suggesting that different exercises may be more effective depending on the location of the pain.  

However, whilst initial research has shown promising results, additional research is needed to fully establish the benefits of multifidus exercises.  

Conclusion

Incorporating multifidus muscle exercises into your workout routine can be highly beneficial for improving your core stability and reducing the risk of lower back pain.

By targeting this deep spinal muscle, you can improve your posture, balance, and overall spinal health.

It’s important to note that while multifidus muscle exercises can be helpful, they should not be used as a replacement for medical treatment or physical therapy.

If you are experiencing chronic back pain, it’s important to consult with a healthcare professional before beginning any exercise program.

Aside from working on strengthening the multifidus muscle, it’s also worth considering some gentle spinal decompression exercises.  

These can help to relieve pressure along your spine and loosen up surrounding muscles.  

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