17 Back Muscles That Cause the Most Back Pain (and how to get relief!)

back muscles

Back pain is one of the top reasons for missed work and second only to upper-respiratory infections for causing doctor visits.

Most of the time, back muscle pain is diagnosed then “treated” with little more than a prescription of rest, painkillers and muscle relaxants.

Follow this advice and you’re taking one more step down the path to more serious back pain – and possibly doctor-recommended back surgery to deal with it.

And it’s all because you’ve never been told why you have back muscle pain – or how to get lasting relief by treating the cause rather than the symptoms.

That all ends today as we pull back the covers and see exactly what is going on… why your back hurts… which muscles are behind your back pain… and most importantly, what you can do about it (besides taking more pain pills).


Why your back muscles hurt

This may sound suspiciously like common sense, but your back muscles hurt when you pull them too far or place them under too much strain.

But contrary to common misperception, the underlying cause of this back muscle pain is not poor posture, how much you exercise or even your genetic history.

Instead, poor posture can be strong evidence of the real cause. Exercise of the wrong kind can make it worse (but the right kind can relieve your pain). And the good news is you can do something about this underlying cause of back pain – regardless of your genetics.

The root cause of virtually all non-trauma related back muscle pain – and a major contributor to many back conditions like herniated discs – are muscle imbalances.

One way to visualize muscle imbalances and how they cause back pain is to think of your car. If the wheels are out of alignment, the tires will wear unevenly, making them more susceptible to an early blowout.

Imbalanced muscles do the same thing to your back. Muscle pain results when one muscle or group of muscles overpowers an opposing set of muscles that get stretched out of shape.

And here’s the kicker… many of the muscles affecting your back pain aren’t in your back!

For example, sitting all day long leads to weak abs, glutes, and hamstrings which go unused much of the day. In the meanwhile, your hip flexors, quadriceps and lumbar muscles remain tight to keep you in an upright position.

Over time, this imbalance between the muscles of your lower back, legs and stomach can cause severe lower back muscle pain – even when you’re not sitting down.

This video explains how muscle imbalances affect your pain, and how to fix them. 

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So which muscles are behind your back pain? Let’s take a quick look at the four most common postural dysfunctions behind nearly all back pain… and the muscles behind those dysfunctions.


Forward head and neck

If you’re wondering what muscles cause neck pain, these are some of the culprits. Forward head posture and shoulders rounded forward are common signs of this set of muscle imbalances.

For every inch your head moves forward out of alignment from your shoulders, your neck effectively carries an additional ten pounds of weight. Forward head and neck postural dysfunction is a frequent cause of neck and upper back pain, not to mention headaches, shoulder pain and more.

Tight muscles:

  • Anterior deltoid
  • Pectoralis
  • Latissimus dorsi

Weak muscles:

  • Middle trapezius
  • Lower trapezius
  • Infraspinatus
  • Teres minor

Forward Head and Neck Muscle Imbalance


Forward tipped pelvis

By far the most common postural dysfunction we see, a forward tipped pelvis is extremely common among office workers, truck drivers and others who spend a large portion of each day sitting.

A forward tipped pelvis is also the most common cause of lower back muscle pain. Let’s take a look at muscles that cause lower back pain.

Tight muscles:

  • Lumbar
  • Hip flexors
  • Quadriceps

Weak muscles:

  • Abdominal
  • Gluteal
  • Hamstrings

Forward Tipped Pelvis Muscle Imbalance


Backward tipped pelvis

The opposite of a forward tipped pelvis, a backward tipped pelvis is the least common of the four primary postural dysfunctions behind back muscle pain. It’s most frequently found in the older population.

Tight muscles:

  • Pectoralis
  • Upper abdominal
  • Gluteal
  • Hamstrings

Weak muscles:

  • Thoracic erector spinae
  • Hip flexors
  • Quadriceps

Backward Tipped Pelvis Muscle Imbalance


High hip

A misaligned pelvis (one side higher than the other) is often related to back pain or restriction in movement that affects one side of your body more than the other. Here are some of the muscles that cause hip pain when they’re too tight or weak.

Tight muscles:

  • Quadratus lumborum
  • Psoas
  • Adductor

Weak muscles:

  • Gluteal
  • Hamstrings

High Hip Muscle Imbalance


Back muscle pain relief in two simple steps

You may have one, two or even three different postural dysfunctions. Identifying which postural dysfunction(s) you have will give you the insight you need to eliminate the muscle imbalances behind your back pain using muscle balance therapy.

Don’t let the formal name throw you off, though. The concept is actually very simple:

1) Identify which muscles are weak and strengthen them through targeted exercise

2) Identify which muscles are tight and relieve the tightness through targeted stretching.

Once the tight muscles have relaxed and weak muscles have been strengthened enough to carry their normal load, your body will naturally return to a neutral posture — relieving back muscle pain and most other back pain, neck pain and sciatica pain in the process.

But there is a catch: you must accurately identify the muscle imbalances you have and use the correct stretches and exercises or you may accidentally strengthen or stretch the wrong muscles, leaving you in pain longer.


References

Back Pain Facts & Statistics. American Chiropractic Association. 2012.

Filed Under: Back Pain, Muscle Balance Therapy
Written By:
Jesse Cannone, CFT, CPRS, MFT

Jesse Cannone, CFT, CPRS, MFT

Jesse is the co-founder and visionary CEO of The Healthy Back Institute®, the world-leading source of natural back pain solutions. His mission as a former back pain sufferer is to help others live pain free without surgery and pharmaceuticals.

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24 thoughts on “17 Back Muscles That Cause the Most Back Pain (and how to get relief!)”

  1. Avatar Alistair Taylor says:

    Thanks on your marvellous posting! I really enjoyed reading it. This website has got some really useful info on it! I was looking for this. It was excellent and very informative. As a first time visitor to your blog I am very impressed and I found a lot of informative stuff in your article. Thanks for posting. PLEASE keep it up!

    1. Avatar Barbara says:

      Ok i will write more later but at this moment in time i really must get my dinner. It was very a
      Interesting reading that i must follow to getting in to tip top shape.looking forward to getting started on getting myself into shape I do thank you so much.

  2. Avatar Stephen says:

    I have never seen such a well explained details about back aches. Thank you from the bottom of my heart

    1. Avatar Admin says:

      Thank you for your kind comment Stephen, we appreciate it

      Admin
      (The Healthy Back Institute)

      1. Avatar Florence says:

        Thanks so much for the life saving information. I now know what is causing me back pain, which is described as weak right gluteal muscles.

  3. Avatar John Smith says:

    It is really nice that you shared tips to get rid of back pain. Well explained thanks for sharing
    .

    1. Avatar Admin says:

      We appreciate your kind comment John, Thank you
      Admin
      (The Healthy Back Institute)

  4. Avatar JOSEFINA CARBONELL says:

    I look forward to receiving you tips to correct my muscle imbalance. I have been told by my physical therapist that my muscles are weak especially my abs.. I slouch a lot and i do have scoliosis. My present issue is how to relieve my sciatica. I do have spinal stenosis, herniated disc cause by degenerative OA. I am against back surgery and besides the neurologist says I don’t need it yet.

    1. Avatar Admin says:

      Hi Josefina,

      Thank you for your comment. We believe education is key to dealing with back pain/sciatica and we would suggest you get yourself a copy of our free book the “7 Day Back Pain Cure”. The book discusses back pain issues,muscle imbalances, sciatica and related pains, various treatment options you can consider, pain relief suggestions, action plans and other helpful information for when dealing with pain.

      Do please read more details and information about the 7 Day Back Pain Cure book via the link below

      http://losethebackpain.com/7daybackpaincure.html

      Our Best Wishes
      Admin (The Healthy Back Institute)

      1. Avatar OGUNDOKUN JOSEPH says:

        I really enjoyed al ur analysis on d back pain issue. I have a severe back pain, but my pain is from Narve, bcos of one of the Lumber vertebrae that protrude outside stressing d Narve. I feel hotness in my leg, down to the hips, Sharp pain at d back n waist, Numbness, electrical n pins in my legs. Pls how can this vertebrae Narve problems can be corrected. More blessing sir.

        1. Avatar Admin says:

          Thankyou Ogundokun Joseph,

          A good starting point is our Free Book the 7 Day Back Pain Cure.
          The book discusses back pain and related issues along with treatment options and pain relief suggestions. Please read more about it via the link below

          http://losethebackpain.com/7daybackpaincure.html

          Thank you. Our Best Wishes
          Admin (The Healthy Back Institute)

  5. Avatar Lourdes S. says:

    Hello, can muscle imbalances also cause leg length difference? If so, can correcting leg length difference resolve people’s pains and vice versa?

    1. Lourdes, To be clear, there is a bit of semantics, Muscle imbalances can cause what are called Leg Length discrepancies (a perceived difference in the lengths of the legs).

      Which is different than a leg length difference (where the lengths of the bones are not the same)

      So Leg Length discrepancies can be corrected as the muscle are rebalances and the pelvis goes back to a more neutral position…

      leg length differences are congenital and are different from birth or post surgeries like a knee or hip, and they can be fixed only the use of adaptive inserts can support leg length difference…

      Hope this helps

      Steve

  6. Avatar Crecilio Jabagat says:

    Thank you very much for giving me a chance to read all very important and useful information regarding the facts and stories of back pain. I’m sure it would help a lot. Thank you.

  7. Avatar Admin says:

    Hi Crecilio,

    Thank you so much for taking the time to leave your kind comment. We are very happy to hear that you are finding our articles useful to you.

    You may wish to also consider our Free Book the 7 Day Back Pain Cure. The book discusses back pain and related issues, treatment options to consider, pain relief suggestions, action plans and other helpful information for coping with pain. If you wish you can read more about it via the link below

    http://losethebackpain.com/7daybackpaincure.html

    Thank you. Our Best Wishes
    Admin (The Healthy Back Institute)

  8. Avatar Mihir says:

    Thank you very much, it was very helpful!

  9. Avatar Deborah Shorrock says:

    Hi, thanks for a very interesting article. Would you have any suggestions to correct discomfort in my right outer upper leg. When stepping up and forward, going up stairs, from the ball of my foot it feels like my upper leg bone is pushing out against the side of my hip. This fairly recent symptom now happens often and may be related to a serious fall 3 years ago (landed on my head), which caused a pinched nerve in my neck and de quervains in my wrist tendon (both on right side). Both issues have been relieved substantially but now I would very much like to correct the current issue in my right “hip”. I have to bend very consciously so as not to aggravate the issue too.
    I’d love to know what’s happening inside my body and how to correct what ever imbalance there is, or how to move things back into place.

    1. Avatar Admin says:

      Hi Deborah,

      Thank you we appreciate your kind comment on our article and are glad you find it interesting.

      Thank you for explaining your pain issues. It is good to hear that you are interested in learning more. We would like to help and a good starting point is our Free Book the 7 Day Back Pain Cure.
      The book discusses back pain, muscle imbalances and related conditions with pain relief and treatment suggestions and many other useful aspects. Please read more about it via the link below.

      http://losethebackpain.com/7daybackpaincure.html

      Thank you. Our Best Wishes
      Admin (The Healthy Back Institute)

  10. Avatar Lee Forsythe says:

    While what is said above makes sense, what is MISSING are the exercises to try to correct the problem once same has been identified. How is that to be done? By buying a book, obtaining PF (in my experience PT’s are more driven by MD Orders than patients seeking exercises that can be done at home to correct whatever the issue is. That seemingly automatically implies MD involvement of some sort to obtain a written order for PT. Next up, the cost of seeing a PT therapist who will only address what the MD indicates/reflects and not a whole lot else.
    Show me examples of exercises that can be done at home without a PT therapist and I’ll pay attention. Otherwise, this seems like a commercial advocating the involvement of PT therapists and that involves out of pocket costs for most people.

    1. Avatar Steve HBI Staff says:

      Lee, Just to be clear, we tell you which muscles are tight and which muscles are weak… Our approach is more about helping you identify those imbalances and then giving your very targeted and specific stretches and exercises based on your own findings…

      That said, we do not just give out stretches or exercises as there is no way for us to know if that specific stretch or exercise is appropriate for you or not, without you first doing the assessments.

      And you are correct we do have a system for that, it called the Lose the Back Pain System
      https://losethebackpain.com/products/lose-the-back-pain-dvd-system

      Thanks

      Steve

      Thanks for the

  11. Avatar Athayurdhamah says:

    hey nice article, thanks for sharing the deep causes of back pain in day to day life. it helps to understand the work of different muscles. keep going.

  12. Avatar Janet Allaway says:

    Thank you for such clear and wonderful information. It makes so much sense and I have never had this explained to me before. I really appreciate what you do.

    1. Avatar Admin says:

      Hi Janet,
      Thank you so much for taking the time to leave your kind comment. We are very happy you found the article so helpful.

      Thank You Kindly
      Admin(The Healthy Back Institute)

  13. Avatar J Lewis says:

    I was given exercises/stretches for psoas muscles and when i am diligent about doing those, i have very little back pain. I am blessed to have a PT who is more about helping me stretch and doing muscle release than just watching me do exercises!

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