Back Muscle Anatomy

Back Muscle Anatomy

Upgrade to Shiken Premium Call To Action Banner

The Muscles of the Back

The human back contains a diverse range of muscles, which are categorized into three distinct groups based on their location: superficial, intermediate, and intrinsic back muscles. The intrinsic back muscles are aptly named as they originate from the back itself, while the other two categories of extrinsic muscles develop outside of this area.

Superficial Back Muscles

The first group consists of the superficial back muscles, which lie just under the skin. This category includes the latissimus dorsi muscle, the trapezius, the levator scapulae, as well as the rhomboids. All of these muscles originate from the vertebral column and ultimately connect to the clavicle, scapula or humerus. As such, these muscles play an important role in the movement of the upper limb.

Intermediate Back Muscles

The intermediate back muscles are responsible for the elevation and depression of the rib cage. This category consists mainly of the serratus posterior superior and the serratus posterior inferior.

Intrinsic (Deep) Back Muscles

Finally, the intrinsic (or deep) back muscles are further divided into three layers: superficial, intermediate, and deep. These muscles work together to support the movement of the vertebral column and to help with posture control.

The Latissimus Dorsi Muscle

The latissimus dorsi is one of the most important muscles of the back. It is a large, triangular muscle that covers much of the middle and lower back. It originates from the lower vertebral column and the lower three ribs. From there, it connects to the humerus bone at the arm, creating a tendon-like structure that allows it to contract and move the arm in various directions. The main action of the latissimus dorsi is to bring the arm toward the body and to help in the extension of the shoulder. It is a powerful muscle that is involved in many activities, such as chests presses, pull-ups, and rowing.

The Trapezius Muscle

The trapezius muscle is a flat, wide muscle that starts in the base of the skull and runs down the back to the mid-back. It is divided into three sections that help to move and stabilize the shoulder blades. The upper fibers extend between the spine and the shoulder blade, while the lower fibers connect the spine to the collar bone. The middle fibers run in between the two, passing horizontally across the back. The main action of the trapezius muscle is to retract the shoulder blades, raising them back and pulling them together. This muscle also assists in shoulder elevation, helping to lift the arms up and away from the body. It is used in a wide range of activities, from sports to regular movements in activities of daily living.

The Levator Scapulae Muscle

The levator scapulae is a thin, triangular muscle that is located between the neck and the shoulder blade. It originates from the transverse processes of the upper two cervical vertebrae and inserts into the medial border of the scapula. Its action is to elevate, rotate, and retract the scapula, allowing for a range of movements in this area.This muscle is used in many everyday activities, such as turning the head and reaching for things behind the back. It is also heavily involved in shoulder and neck movements, such as tilting the head to one side or lifting the shoulder to the ear.

The Rhomboids Muscle

The rhomboids are two pairs of muscles located deep in the mid-back. The two muscles- the rhomboid major and rhomboid minor- originate from the spinous processes of the thoracic vertebrae and insert into the scapula. The main action of the rhomboids is to retract the shoulder blades, pull them together and strengthen the connection between the vertebral column and the shoulder blade. They also help to rotate the shoulder, allowing for a range of complex movements. The rhomboids are used in activities such as rowing and pull-ups, and also in everyday movements such as reaching behind the body.

The Serratus Posterior Superior and the Serratus Posterior Inferior Muscles

The serratus posterior superior and the serratus posterior inferior are the two major muscles of the intermediate back muscles. The serratus posterior superior originates from the spinous processes of the thoracic vertebrae and inserts into the upper ribs, while the serratus posterior inferior originates from the lumbar vertebrae and inserts into the lower ribs. Together, these two muscles help to elevate and depress the rib cage. The serratus posterior muscles are used to help with breathing, as they work to expand and contract the rib cage in order to allow for inhalation and exhalation. They are also used in a wide range of activities, such as pushing and pulling motions.


The human back is composed of many highly specialized muscles that play an important role in helping us move, breathe, and maintain good posture. Each of these muscles is unique and has its own set of functions that are vital to everyday life. With a better understanding of the muscles of the back, one can better appreciate its complexity and recognize how each muscle contributes to the performance of daily activities.

Explore More Subject Explanations

Try Shiken Premium
for Free

14-day free trial. Cancel anytime.
Get Started
Join 10,000+ learners worldwide.
The first 14 days are on us
96% of learners report x2 faster learning
Free hands-on onboarding & support
Cancel Anytime