The Mighty Multifidi Save My Cracking Spine

Posted in Lessons from the Mat

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For a handful of years in my late 20′s and early 30′s I was addicted to cracking my spine. Several times each day I would strongly twist my body to the right and try to crack and pop as many vertebrae as possible. The more cracks and pops I felt, the merrier I was.

The relief of cracking my spine freed up my lower back in a way that only a body worker could do for me, yet it was short-lived. The next time I’d feel stuck, which was usually a few hours later, I’d happily twist and crack again. What I didn’t know then was that the constant cracking was adding to any already present joint instability. When I found this out, I quickly snapped out of my crack and pop enjoyment. I want to be healthy for years to come, and spinal health plays a major role in my idea of health. I don’t want to end up a retired yoga teacher who hobbles around due to lower back pain!

I promptly promised myself I would re-establish stability in my spine by no longer cracking it and strengthening the muscles around the now unstable joints. Since it was my lumbar vertebrae that regularly got the twist and crack, I knew needed to work on core strength.

The multifidi run all the way down your spine.

In this particular case, when I say core, I don’t mean a bronzed eight pack set of rectus abdominus. I’m referring to all the muscles that keep the middle of the body stable and protected – the abdominal muscles as well as the lower back muscles.

In my exploration, I met the mighty multifidus muscle. Located deep in the spine, these very thin and small muscles fill the grooves on either side of the spinous processes from sacrum to skull. They take pressure off the vertebral discs so that our body weight can be evenly distributed along the spine. They are responsible for supporting and stabilizing the spine.

Given their wide-ranging responsibilities, anything we do that includes bending backward   (stretching first thing in the morning), bending sideways (picking up a dropped pen), and turning to the side (whirling around to see who just called your name) recruit these super muscles. Even more astounding is that the multifidus gets activated before any action is carried out to protect the spine from injury. So before you lift your forearm to scroll down this page… Yup, the multifidi are already contracting.

So how do I keep my multifidi so mighty? Come back on Friday to read about my favorite Yoga Tune Up® exercises to strengthen the multifidus and core, keeping you (and me) healthy for a long time!