A model of the lumbar back muscles was constructed incorporating 49 fascicles of the lumbar erector spinae and multifidus. The attachment sites and sizes of fascicles were based on previous anatomic studies, and the fascicles were modeled on radiographs of nine normal volunteers in the upright position. Calculations revealed that the thoracic fibers of the lumbar erector spinae contribute 50% of the total extensor moment exerted on L4 and L5; multifidus contributes some 20%; and the remainder is exerted by the lumbar fibers of erector spinae. At upper lumbar levels, the thorecic fibers of the lumbar erector spinae contribute between 70% and 86% of the total extensor moment. In the upright posture, the lumbar back muscles exert a net posterior shear force on segments L1 to L4, but exert an anterior shear force on L5. Collectively, all the back muscles exert large compression forces on all segments. A force coefficient of 46 Ncm-2 was determined to apply for the back muscles. These results have a bearing on the appreciation of the effects on the back muslces of surgery and physiotherapy.