It has been suggested that the muscles of the anterolateral abdominal wall increase the stability of the lumbar region of the vertebral column by tensing the thoracolumbar fascia and by raising intra-abdominal pressure. In this report these new mechanisms are reviewed and their contribution to vertebral stability assessed. The thoracolumbar fascia consists of two principal layers of dense fibrous tissue that attach the abdominal muscles to the vertebral column. Each of these layers was dissected in fresh and fixed material and samples chosen for light and scanning electron microscopy to study the arrangement of the component fibers. Computed axial tomography in volunteers showed the changes in spatial organization that occur during flexion of the back and during the Valsalva maneuver. The fascia was then tensed experimentally in isolated unfixed motion segments. The results suggested that the stabilizing action of the thoracolumbar fascia is less than had been thought previously but was consistent with calculations based on the more accurate structural and mechanical information that had been derived from the current study. Abdominal muscle contraction was simulated in whole cadavers in both the flexed and lateral bending positions to compare the stabilizing effect of the thoracolumbar fascia and intra-abdominal pressure mechanisms. These definitive experiments showed that the resistance to bending in the sagittal plane offered by the abdominal muscles acting through fascial tension was of a similar magnitude to that offered by a raised intra-abdominal pressure, both being relatively small in the fully flexed position. The stabilizing influence of the middle layer of the thoracolumbar fascia in lateral bending was clearly demonstrated and warrants further study in vivo.