The multifidi muscles are some of the most underused muscles in our body. This is the reality for many of us, but the problem is that they should be engaged throughout all of our daily activities. They lie very close to our spine and work to extend each individual vertebrae. This extension is especially important in our lower spine that is built to have a gentle lordotic (concave) curve.
Maintaining this gentle curve is important for our lower back health and more. If we lose the extension of our lumbar spine, then we change the building blocks upon which our thoracic and cervical vertebrae are stacked. Physical therapists assess this lumbar curve in patients with neck pain, shoulder pain, lower back pain, pelvic pain, hip pain and more because it is often the root of the cause of chronic pain and dysfunction. Your lumbar curve provides the central shape from which the rest of your skeleton is affected, setting your posture when sitting and standing. Your posture in turn, affects the tension of muscles, tendons, and ligaments, putting them in perfect position to react and contract, or in many cases of poor posture, to not react or contract at all.
Our multifidi muscles play an important role in holding us in optimal (neutral spine) posture. Their action is to extend the spine, so keeping them active prevents the flattening out of our lumbar curve. Our multifidi work together with our transversus abdominus (TA), pulling against one another, to give stability and strength to our lumbar spine as we lift, twist, and reach. Both of these muscles, are key components of our pelvic basket that coordinate along with our pelvic floor muscles, our inner thighs, and our deep hip rotators to prevent pelvic floor dysfunction.
Finding your multifidi and the extension of your lumbar spine is key to resolving/controlling your pelvic floor symptoms. I have included two of my favorite multifidi activation exercises below. Remember, it is important to keep your multifidi activated throughout your daily activities to hold your natural lordotic curve in sitting and standing positions. So a step beyond completing one of the workouts from the Hab It DVD daily, is to check your multifidi and lumbar posture at different times throughout your day!
Multifidi extensions (3 sets x 10 repetitions) – Position yourself on your stomach with your forehead on a towel roll to avoid having to turn your head to the side. In this position, perform 10 contractions of our multifidi muscles. These are very small muscles in between each segment of our spine that holds our natural curve or neutral spine. So, in this lying position, simply rotate your pelvis, lifting our tail bone up toward the ceiling. The movement is very subtle so you shouldn’t see a big rotation of your pelvis. Remember to SLOW DOWN holding each lift for a count before relaxing and repeating. (This exercise can also be completed in standing position)
Standing Hamstring Extensions (3 sets x 10 repetitions) – To begin, stand with your feet approximately 6 inches apart with a slight bend in your knees. From this position, hinge at the hips tilting your upper body forward. Take care to keep the arch or lordosis in your lower back as you hinge your upper body forward. It may help to think of sticking your buns out. When you reach a point of hamstring tension, stop your forward hinge and begin a set of 10 knee extensions, straightening your knees followed by small knee bends. 3 sets of 10 repetitions will produce good passive tension in your pelvic floor as well as a good hamstring stretch. Note that your mulitifidi have to work throughout this exercise to keep the arch or lordosis in your lower back.
Interesting that you posted this at this particular time. I just ran across a new book by Dr. Eric Goodman and Peter Park (Lance Armstrong’s trainer) called “Foundation: Redefine your core, conquer back pain, and move with confidence.” It’s a new approach to fitness that focuses on strengthening and stretching all those muscle groups that you focus on in your DVD and posts. I wonder if you’re familiar with their approach, which de-emphasizes the ab exercises and strives for improved flow and movement. Anything in their program that would raise alarm bells for those of us with prolapse/pelvic floor issues?
I have not read their book, but you have definitely peaked my interest. The two concepts that you mention, de-emphasizing abdominal exercises and improved flow and movement, are two points that I strongly support. Let me take a closer look at the book before I endorse it and answer your question.
Hi, I just got your dvd and have been having trouble with these very exercises. I get very bad lower back pain every time I do them (the floor exercises). I take a break and try again another day but the same happens. Is this normal when you have been accustomed to flattening your spine for years?
Dear tasha, When walking, sitting, doing everyday activities, I make every effort to keep my lumbar curve in place. This I understand is dependent upon activating the multifidi muscles. Do I also have to intentionally contract the transverse abs, or does that happen automatically? Right now I notice that when walking, my TA seems to contract on its own. Also can you hold the TA in too much and fatigue it and the pelvic floor? Thanks for the information.
Anne, your transversus abdominus will be turned “on” with activation of your multifidi muscles that hold your lordotic curve in your low back IF you keep your chest up. Lifting your chest and ribs helps to give tension to all connective tissue throughout your abdomen and pelvis, which is great for your pelvic organs and it also gives a passive tension to your transversus abdominus. To say that your TA is automatically contracted is a bit of a stretch, though. Without actively contracting your TA, you can often extend your lumbar curve too much, resulting in painful compression of your lumbar vertebrae over time. Be cautious. Get in front of a mirror and check your neutral spine posture atleast once a day!
Going a little further, when you reach or lift you may have to concentrate on actively contracting your TA by drawing your belly button up and in to stabilize. With practice, this anticipatory firing of your deep core stabilizers will happen automatically much like you have described your TA being automatically contracted when you are walking. This is typically because when you walk you hold better posture with your chest up. With good posture and good habits, the correct firing pattern will become automatic. That’s when you will note that your pelvic floor symptoms are relatively gone.
Thanks for sharing your knowledge. It really helps to clear up any confusion or uncertainty.
I am happy to work towards giving women a better understanding of their bodies and how to get the most out of them!
If you are having consistent pain with these initial gentle lumbar extension exercises, I would highly recommend you get in to see a physical therapist. You may require some hands on mobilization of your spine and thorough one on one postural modifications.
I have been trying to refine my neutral spine posture since I started your DVD 6 months ago. In particular increasing awareness in everyday activities (sitting, standing, walking, carrying my kids). I recently read a post on Katy Bowman’s blog that made me wonder if I’m doing something wrong
So she suggests that a “rib thrust” is increasing intrabdominal pressure as well as “sucking in”.
I contacted you a while ago about sucking in versus the TA contraction and i THINK i’ve been able to tell the difference (and the advanced exercises help with that, thank you!).
However, the rib thrust thing is equally hard for me to figure out. If my multifidi are extending my spine, and my TA is engaged, it seems to me that the ribs will naturally thrust outward, expanding the rib cage. It also seems the only way to not thrust the ribs is to suck in. However, both apparantly increase pressure on my pelvic floor.
Do you have any insight that might help me?
I love that you are fine tuning your posture. Really getting in tune with your body is a huge piece of the puzzle. On the other hand, I can understand your confusion when reading information from different professionals. I would encourage you to try each explanation out for yourself and come back to this discussion with what you are feeling. This will be a great help to many women. This posture has you at maximum extension of your lower lumbar spine, sticking your buns out and in turn thrusting your ribs and boobs out. This is not good and is an extreme position that will undoubtedly result in mechanical low back if not immediately, then eventually.
Next, lets address the role of the TA. You activate this muscle by drawing your belly button up and in, while still breathing (this is where it differs from sucking in). The TA funnels down within the pelvic inlet and narrows within the pelvis. It is this funnel shape that displaces the pressure upward with these transverse TA fibers are drawn in. So activating your TA does NOT increase pressure down on your pelvic floor, rather it displaces pressure upward. This one you have to try and feel for yourself!
I encourage you to try this and let us know what your body feels. You sound as though your are really fine tuning your muscle control. I want to know what you feel when you activate your TA. Do you feel increased pressure down on your pelvic floor or do you feel as though it lifts pressure off of your pelvic floor. Let us know!
When I activate what I think is my TA, I feel like it almost forces me to contract my pelvic floor/basket (I feel like there is an automatic “quick flick”), so I suppose I would call that a lift. The boobs out image is helpful. I really appreciate your explanations of postures and anatomy. Since I found your site and DVD, I have been seeking more information about alignment and posture. I find it really fascinating, and also helpful to be more aware during the day, even if I don’t find the time for specific exercises.
You’ve got it!!! If you are feeling your pelvic floor activate or as you said “quick flick” when you draw your TA up and in, then you have found the coordination between the two muscles. You see, after delivery, we often lose this coordination between muscles and we have to train our bodies to get it back. This is no different than a physical therapist having to train the hamstring and quad to co-contract following knee injury or surgery.
Great job feeling the muscles working within your pelvic basket. Every TA contraction will activate the pelvic floor and in turn, every pelvic floor lift and hold will activate the TA.
[…] about the “root of our core,” the deepest three stabilizers of our body in previous blogs. http://hab-it.com/blog/?p=257 It is important that we regain control of these […]