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What are the Deep Core Muscles of the Back? How to Fix Back Pain With Physical Therapy (Part 1)

When we think about strengthening our bodies, we often focus on the mover muscles like biceps and pecs. However, there is a group of smaller muscles vital for stability, posture, and overall well-being – the deep core muscles of the back. These intrinsic muscles play a pivotal role in supporting the spine, facilitating movement, and preventing injuries. Let's delve into their significance and why they deserve our attention.

outer core vs deep core

The Anatomy of the Deep Core Muscles of the Back:

The deep core muscles encompass a network of muscles situated deep within the abdomen and back, forming a stabilizing girdle around the spine. Key players include the transversus abdominis, multifidus, pelvic floor muscles, and diaphragm. Unlike their superficial counterparts, these muscles aren't readily visible, but their importance cannot be overstated.  They form a cylinder allowing us to create pressure and rigidity/spinal stiffness.  Using this stiffness we can transfer heavy loads without injuring our back.

1. Transversus Abdominis:

The transversus abdominis acts like a corset, providing stability and support to the lumbar spine. Its horizontal orientation enables it to compress the abdomen, thereby stabilizing the core and protecting the spine during movements.

2. Multifidus:

The multifidus muscles run along the length of the back of the spine, playing a crucial role in spinal stability and segmental control. They work in harmony with other back muscles to maintain proper alignment and distribute loads evenly across the spine, reducing the risk of strain or injury.  These muscles help with reducing shear forces of the spine which create irritation to the structures of the spine.

3. Pelvic Floor Muscles:

While often associated with pelvic health, the pelvic floor muscles also contribute to core stability. These muscles support the organs within the pelvis and help maintain bladder and bowel control. Strengthening the pelvic floor is integral for overall core function and preventing issues like incontinence or pelvic pain.

4. Diaphragm:

Though primarily known for its role in respiration, the diaphragm also influences core stability. As the primary muscle of breathing, the diaphragm coordinates with the pelvic floor and deep abdominal muscles to maintain intra-abdominal pressure, providing a stable base for movement and protecting the spine from excessive loads.

The Importance of Deep Core Muscle Strength:

1. Spinal Support and Posture: Deep core muscles work synergistically to support the spine, promoting proper alignment and posture. A strong core helps distribute the body's weight evenly, reducing strain on the spine and minimizing the risk of conditions like lordosis or kyphosis.

2. Injury Prevention: Weakness in the deep core muscles can predispose individuals to back pain, disc herniation, or other spinal injuries. By enhancing core stability, individuals can mitigate the risk of such injuries, especially during activities that involve lifting, twisting, or bending.

3. Enhanced Performance: Whether engaging in sports, fitness activities, or daily tasks, a strong core is fundamental for optimal performance. Improved core stability translates to better balance, coordination, and power generation, enabling individuals to excel in various physical endeavors.

4. Pain Management: For individuals already experiencing back pain, strengthening the deep core muscles can alleviate discomfort and promote healing. Targeted exercises that engage these muscles can help relieve strain on the spine and improve overall spinal health.

Disclaimer: This blog post is for informational purposes only and does not substitute for professional medical advice. Please consult with a qualified healthcare professional for personalized guidance.


About the author: David Potucek, PT, MSPT, CFMT

Caitlyn Hauswirth-Varis

David is an orthopedic physical therapist with over 20 years of experience. He is an expert in sacroiliac joint dysfunctions and both acute and chronic back pain. He is a former D1 athlete, and currently keeps active with lifting and running.

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