The lumbar spine, also known as the low back, includes the five lumbar vertebrae that form the base of the spine. The lumbar spine has the largest vertebrae in your body. Each vertebra is separated by a cartilaginous disc. The lumbar spine connects directly with the pelvis, which then connects with the lower extremities. These connections imply that dysfunction in the lower extremity or hip can translate into pain or dysfunction at the level of the spine.
As we age, the cartilaginous discs separating each vertebra can shrink in size, leading to shorter spaces between the vertebrae, shorter stature, posture deficits and potentially pain. For people with osteoporosis, it can lead to a higher risk of compression fractures.
The lumbar spine is a more common site of fracture for people with osteoporosis due to the stresses put on the more vertebrae with certain movements (flexing or bending forward at the spine and twisting). For this reason, it is very important to make sure the muscles surrounding the lumbar spine – especially the core muscles – are strong. Strong muscles and good control over muscle engagement can also help the body protect itself from falls by improving balance and stability.
Some of the muscles in the lumbar spine region include the paraspinals, quadratus lumborum, multifidi, iliopsoas, and many small muscles between the vertebrae. These muscles help to control movement of the spine and stability of the lower back area. But it is important to remember the connections the lumbar spine has with the rest of the spine (the thoracic and cervical spine) and the pelvis. The lumbar spine does not function in isolation. Due to these connections, it is important to perform whole body and spine strengthening exercises to improve strength and stability of the spine and trunk as a whole.