Most of the literature suggests that 80% of people will suffer from at least one episode of back pain sometime in their life. No matter what the underlying reason is that causes the pain, one of the muscles that is often involved is the multifidus or plural, multifidi.
The multifidi can be found running along the right and left sides of the spine. From the neck to the sacrum, each multifidus section spans three vertebral segments and helps to stabilize the spine, helping it work more efficiently and slows down degneration of the joints so often caused by the dreaded weak core, hip flexion and gravity. It might help you to think of it like a wobbly tent that becomes more stable when the lines are tightened. Because of the arrangement of the muscle on both sides of the spine, when both sides contract the multifidi help with spinal extension and fine-tuning of movements.
During hunting season, I observe my dog’s movement patterns. She’s a natural athlete. When she points I watch her nose, spine and tail in perfect alignment as her multifidi and spinal muscles contract. Her strong core allows balance as her front leg is raised. And she can get into position immediately, without a second thought, with excellent balance, over all kinds of terrain, for hours. Amazing!
Of course, it wasn’t just the dog’s multifidi that were contracted, but her other spinal muscles, and glutes too. I noticed that the dog was lengthened through the hip flexors –very important to have length here to avoid too much swaying of the low back. Anatomically, there was a lot going on. It got me thinking that perhaps muscles are only named and defined to ease our ability to describe sensation or one specific action. The thing is, I can’t think of any real-life action in which only one muscle moves. It makes more sense to think in terms of a kinetic chain-- the hip bone is connected to the back bone, the back bone is connected to the neck bone…
If you have performed any bodyweight exercises you may have done an exercise called bird-dog, in which you performed a movement similar to the pointer. Bird-dog can be a great exercise to strengthen the multifidi and other muscles that run along the spine, but there is more to it. Our muscles are connected to each other and organs by fascia, a strong, fibrous connective tissue. Our muscles and fascia work together to provide smooth movement along a kinetic chain. In a position like bird-dog, the lats on the arm-up side must be able to stretch, which requires the arm rotating muscles of the shoulder to have an acceptable range-of-motion. The (usually weak in everyone) glutes must be strong enough to extend the hip. Activation of the glutes can happen almost immediately, however, when the hip flexors are stretched.
Bird Dog is a great exercise to use when you need to strengthen your back and glute muscles.. It is easy to do in your house on a towel on the floor. Use the picture below and think of your back and glutes holding you up. Proper exercise and good massage can go a long way to help improve your back pain and help your muscles function better to reduce degeneration. Additionally, your own bird dog might recover faster and have greater muscular endurance if you spend a little time treating his or her muscles to massage.
Sometimes. Only sometimes I have a client who comes in and says "Gina, I don't understand. I was sore (or wiped out) the day after my massage."
First, being a little sore is NORMAL after a massage, especially if its been a while since you have had one. The soreness is kind of like the soreness after a quality workout and usually says au revoir in 24-48 hours. The WIPED OUT feeling is something different. Its usually due to dehydration.
"But GINA, I drink a big container of water every day."
How often have you gotten up from the massage table and had to (ahem) pee? We just finished an hour or longer of making your blood vessels bigger which transports more blood, oxygen and nutrients (faster!) to your body systems-- we have increased your circulation. I've always been taught that sodium and potassium help your muscles contract and relax the way they should. Knots and cramping often happen when they aren't doing a good job of that? Is it because partly of dehydration?
So when we work out a knot in a muscle, we are bringing fresh "food and drink" to the muscle. The food and drink has to come from somewhere in the body. Makes sense to replace it, eh? Water. If you don't have enough you will feel it in terms of feeling drained, maybe even a little feverish, sore, and fatigued. That's why your massage therapist always says to drink extra water after a massage. Forget everything you have ever heard about "toxins". Please. It's so last century.
You cells and body systems will also benefit from the electrolytes in a hydration drink. Not fake sugars mind you, but real honest to goodness drinks made from real ingredients, and mostly water. Remember Sodium, Potassium, Calcium and Magnesium-- They are required for muscles to work, for muscles to relax and contract properly. Forget the fake food and fake news and give me something authentic, dammit. Here is one of the hydration recipes form our weekly newsletter.
Weekly Hello Hydration Recipe
Keeping hydrated is an important part of staying healthy. Water promotes cardiovascular health, keeps your body cool, helps muscles and joints work better and keeps skin supple. Here is this week’s hydration recipe:
Cantaloupe, Honey, and Mint Water
½ c water
½ c honey
4 c (about 2 lbs) cantaloupe cut into 1 inch pieces
¼ c fresh lime juice (about 2 limes)
2 Tbsp fresh mint leaves
¼ tsp salt
sparkling water or club soda
mint sprigs for garnish
Gina McCafferty is a licensed massage therapist, and heath coach who works with women in their peri and menopausal years who have 30 or more pounds to lose.