Spinal health depends on optimal back muscle performance, and this is determined by muscle structure and function. There has been substantial research evaluating the differences in structure and function of many back muscles, including the multifidus and erector spinae, but with considerable variation in results. Many studies have shown atrophy, fat infiltration, and connective tissue accumulation in back muscles, particularly deep fibers of the multifidus, but the results are not uniform. In terms of function, results are also somewhat inconsistent, often reporting lower multifidus activation and augmented recruitment of more superficial components of the multifidus and erector spinae, but, again, with variation between studies. A major recent observation has been the identification of time-dependent differences in features of back muscle adaptation, from acute to subacute/recurrent to chronic states of the condition. Further, these adaptations have been shown to be explained by different time-dependent mechanisms. This has substantial impact on the rationale for rehabilitation approaches. The aim of this commentary was to review and consolidate the breadth of research investigating adaptation in back muscle structure and function, to consider explanations for some of the variation between studies, and to propose how this model can be used to guide rehabilitation in a manner that is tailored to individual patients and to underlying mechanisms. .