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Three main muscle groups are located in the lower back: extensor, flexor and iliopsoas. Attached to the spine by soft tissues call tendons, these muscles control back motions, support the spine and enable you to stand, bend, twist, walk and and move in different directions. When these muscles become weak or injured, back pain can occur and your mobility may become limited. Regular exercise is one of the best ways to keep lower back muscles strong and prevent pain or injuries.
The extensor muscles are located at the lower left and right sides of the spine. The largest visible muscles in the lower back, they help you stand and lift objects. These muscles are composed of many smaller muscle groups, mostly importantly the erector spinaes. Grouped in pairs, erector spinaes are responsible for helping the spine straighten, or become erect, after bending. Extensor muscles also assist with spine rotation.
Flexor muscles are attached to front of the spine and part of the abdominal wall. As their name suggests, flexor muscles allow you to flex, bend forward, lift and arch the lower back.
The iliopsoas muscles are located on each side of the lower back, attached to the vertebrae of the spine and inside the pelvis. They help the spine rotate and the pelvis flex and bend, as well as help you maintain proper posture and balance your trunk while standing.
Back Muscle Injuries
Lower back pain often occurs when the muscles in this area become weak or injured. Strain caused by improper or heavy lifting is the most common cause of muscle-related lower back pain. Other common causes of lower back muscle pain and strain include falling, bending repeatedly, being overweight, moving suddenly or awkwardly, sitting in the same position for long periods and experiencing extreme emotional stress.
Keeping Back Muscles Strong
Regular, moderate exercise such as walking, swimming, yoga or bicycling can help stretch and strengthen muscles, improve posture and enhance mobility and flexibility. The American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons recommends always using proper lifting techniques. To lift an object properly, stand with your feet shoulder-width apart with your back upright, stomach muscles tight and knees bent. As you stand, use your leg muscles as much as possible and, if an object seems too heavy, ask for help. Always remember to stretch before exercising or performing any strenuous activity; stand with your weight balanced on both feet; choose chairs with good lower back support that allow you to sit with your shoulders back; wear comfortable, low-heeled shoes; and, if sitting for long periods, place a pillow or rolled-up towel at the base of your spine to provide support.