Transversospinalis Group

By Christy Cael
[Functional Anatomy]

The semispinalis, multifidi, and rotatores are all part of the transversospinalis group (transverse = across; spinalis = the spine). Tiny individual muscles connect the transverse process of one vertebra to the spinous process of another located above.

Together, these muscles form a matrix that spans the entire vertebral column and functions much like rigging on a sailboat.

This muscular network is located on the posterior trunk, within the lamina groove. It is deep to the trapezius, rhomboids, latissimus dorsi, and large erector spinae group.

Semispinalis is the most superficial of the transversospinalis muscles. Its fibers connect each transverse process to the spinous process five or six vertebrae above. Its fiber direction is the most vertical of the group, giving it the best leverage for spinal extension. All of the transversospinalis muscles rotate the vertebral column to the opposite side by pulling the spinous processes inferiorly toward the associated transverse processes.

The multifidi are located deep to the semispinalis and superficial to the rotatores. Their fibers connect each transverse process to the spinous process three or four vertebrae above. These muscles are oriented more horizontally than the semispinalis and more vertically than rotatores, giving them leverage for both extension and rotation.

The rotatores are the deepest muscles of the transversospinalis group, and the most developed in the thoracic spine. Each muscle has two parts: the first connects each transverse process to the spinous process immediately above, and the second connects the transverse process to the spinous process two above. The near-horizontal fiber direction gives this muscle good leverage for rotation, but less for extension.

All of the muscles in the transversospinalis group lie very closely to individual intervertebral joints. This proximity allows them to steer and stabilize the joints as larger and more superficial muscles act on the trunk. Similar in function to the rotator cuff muscles of the shoulder, the transversospinalis group positions individual segments and maintains spinal alignment as the large abdominal and erector spinae muscles provide global posture and gross movement.

Palpating the Transversospinalis Group

1. Standing at the client’s side, facing the spine, locate the spinous processes with your fingertips.

2. Slide your fingertips laterally and deeply toward the transverse processes and into the lamina groove (the channel between the spinous and transverse processes).

3. Palpate deep within the lamina groove staying medial to the large, superficial erector spinae muscles.

4. Have the client gently lift and rotate the trunk toward the opposite side to ensure proper location.

 Christy Cael is a licensed massage therapist, certified athletic trainer, and certified strength and conditioning specialist. Her private practice focuses on injury treatment, biomechanical analysis, craniosacral therapy, and massage for clients with neurological issues. She is the author of Functional Anatomy: Kinesiology and Palpation for Manual Therapists (Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 2009). Contact her at




Client Homework—Triangle Pose

1. Stand straight with feet shoulder-width apart


2. Take a large step, spreading your feet 4–5 feet apart.


3. Turn one foot 45 degrees away from the body, with the other foot remaining facing forward.


4. Raise your arms to the side until they are parallel to the floor.


5. Breathe deeply and fold your body toward the angled foot as you exhale.


6. Maintain an elongated spine as you point one arm to the ceiling and the other to the floor.


7. Relax and breathe, return to upright, then repeat on the other side.


Editor’s Note: The Client Homework element in Functional Anatomy is intended as a take-home resource for clients experiencing issues with the profiled muscle. The stretches identified in Functional Anatomy should not be performed within massage sessions or progressed by massage therapists, in order to comply with state laws and maintain scope of practice.