Next to the spine are a group of muscles known as the paraspinal muscles. Specifically, they run next to, and approximately parallel with the spine. The paraspinal muscles are composed of various smaller muscles that connect to the vertebrae and direct the motion of individual bones, and also help with larger motions of the core, or trunk, area. Working together with other muscles, they assist the spine with support and prevent it from being misaligned. Additionally, they are also capable of reducing the range of motion of one’s spine, which is beneficial in preventing injuries to the spinal cord and vertebrae via overextension.
Maintaining Vertical Alignment
In the human body, almost every single skeletal muscle work in pairs, since it is roughly symmetrical. While one muscle is elongating, another is contracting, or getting shorter, in order to have balance. For example, when an individual leans forward, his or her paraspinal muscles are lengthening; when this individual stands upright again, the muscles are contracting to retract him/her back into a standing position. Similarly, the paraspinal muscles work in tandem on both the left and right side when one bends sideways. When an individual is not bending, the purpose of the paraspinal muscles is to then maintain vertical alignment of the spine while standing or sitting.
The paraspinal muscles are believed to be a crucial muscle in preventing severe back injuries, like a herniated disk. When an individual suffers from a back spasm, it is commonly due to a paraspinal muscle tightening up, which is an underlying symptom of bearing too much weight for the muscles to handle, or improperly twisting and bending. Experiencing a paraspinal muscle spasm is a painful ordeal. The pain can be debilitating, preventing many people from doing simple everyday activities such as bending over to pick something off the floor, or even walking.
An affected individual needs to cease any activities which aggravate the injury or else a more severe injury may occur to the spinal cord or disks. A back spasm is actually quite useful in preventing additional injury, since it is an unforgettable warning sign, and can defend an existing condition while it is recovering. Additionally, a paraspinal muscle strain, though extremely painful, can recover much faster than a disk injury.
Protecting the Spine
The paraspinal muscles are not isolated from the rest; they are included in an interconnected network of muscles which encompasses the chest, pelvis, and abdomen. All of these muscles work as a team to guard the spine and allow free movement within a certain range. Frail abdominal muscles may cause the back muscles to be strained, since they must work harder to compensate for the muscular imbalance. This is most often the cause of paraspinal muscle injuries in the first place. Obese individuals who carry around an excess amount of weight, especially if located around the front of the body, may also cause back strain. One of the most common complaints during pregnancy is about low back pain, and the same is true for individual who are obese or overweight.
Photo Credit: “Multifidi” by Uwe Gille