This month’s “Muscle of The Month” is one of my favorites. Maybe it is because we share a “middle child” connection that I am particularly fond of this muscle. This is a good thing, because as a "Greg Roskopf's Muscle Activation Techniques (MAT) Certified Specialist, I find that Longissimus is not as efficient as it could be in MANY of my clients, so I work hard to get this muscle working properly.
Longissimus is one of the 3 muscles that make up the “Erector Spinae” Group. Located in the middle of the Erector Spinae group, between Spinalis and Iliocostalis, Longissimus is the longest of these 3 muscles on the back of the body, running along each side of the spine. This muscle begins in the lumbar (lower back) region, connecting to a thick connective tissue known as the Thoracolumbar Fascia. The Longissimus has attachments onto each of the ribs and thoracic spine, and runs all the way up to the side of the neck (cervical spine) and into the base of the skull.
You may be wondering: “What functions does the Longissimus provide for our bodies??”
The Erector Spinae muscles are all responsible for keeping our trunk and upper body upright against gravity while we are sitting and standing. When one side is not working as well, the other side of the body has to work overtime to keep us upright, and that gets tiring! Since the Longissimus attaches to the Thoracolumbar Fascia in the lower back area, the tension it generates helps to keep this area stable. Many other muscles connect into this region as well, so all of them must be working efficiently to have the proper support and stability in our lower back and Sacro-iliac (SI) joints. Some of our abdominals attach into this same area of the back, so instability here can even affect the efficiency of the front of our abdomen! The Longissimus muscle is involved in bending our spine and trunk to the side, rotating it to the same side, and extending it back (like for maintaining upright posture or performing a backbend). The Longissimus Cervicis (in our neck) causes us to bend our neck sideways to bring our ear toward our shoulder, turn our head to the same side, or look up toward the sky. The Longissimus Capitis (attached to our skull) also brings our head to the side on top of our neck, and helps us to lift our chin toward the sky as we look up. This long muscle does A LOT for our bodies!
“How do we isolate this muscle to feel it contract?” Well, I thought you’d never ask! To isolate the lumbar and thoracic sections of the Longissimus, lie on your back with your upper body bent to the side, now slide both of your legs over to that same side so your body is forming a C shape. Use the back muscles on the shortened side of the curve to push your legs further to that same side. Make sure you are using the muscles on the back of your body rather than on the side of your abdomen or trunk. For your neck, lie on your stomach with your head off of the edge of your bed. Lift your head all the way up and turn it all the way to one side. Tilt your chin up toward the ceiling to isolate the portion that attaches to your head. Be sure to breathe as you move into these positions and only go as far as you can without any discomfort.
“How will I know if my Longissimus is not working correctly?” you may also be wondering. If you feel limitations in your ability to perform the functions listed above or have tightness or discomfort while bending, turning or extending your spine, your Longissimus should be checked out. If you feel generalized pain in the lower back or SI joints, have chronic neck pain or headaches, Longissimus could be a culprit.
Once you have checked in with your personal MAT Specialist and are certain that all muscles are in good, solid working order, you can move on to more general strengthening exercises. Some general exercises that will involve the Longissimus are Supermans, Bird/Dog, Roman Chair Back Extensions, and Dead Lifts. Your body will thank you to keep your Longissimus muscles happy and strong!