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The Low-Down on Spinal Curvatures
Kyphosis and lordosis, two words you’re likely to hear in a discussion about spinal curvatures. As with anything foreign and unfamiliar, they come with a degree of confusion and even trepidation. So let’s start by demystifying them.
To put it super simply, a kyphosis is a hump and a lordosis is an arch.
When you look at someone from the side, you see humps in their middle back and sacrum and arches in their neck and lower back, these are all normal curvatures, everybody has them. As with all things body related, there are huge variations under what is labelled normal. When someone has curvatures outside of normative values, they are notated as having increased or decreased kyphosis (humps) or lordosis (arches). These increased or decreased curvatures have been unfairly blamed for causing back pain. I’ve seen crap on Instagram like “You have a lordosis and that’s why you have back pain.” No, just no. You’re supposed to have curvatures in your spine, they are perfectly normal.
Why Do We Have Spinal Curvatures?
Why do we have these curvatures? Because we humans have evolved to become bipeds: we walk on two legs!
When you were born, your spine is pretty rounded, it has one long C-shaped primary curve. Once you’ve come out of your Ma’s womb and begun to learn to move, from rolling to rocking to crawling to standing and walking, your spine, in response to gravity and your own muscles’ forces, developed the secondary curves in your neck and lower back. These secondary curves, the lordosis (arch) in your neck and lower back, are what allow you to walk on two legs and simultaneously have your head in a logical spot on top of your spine so you can see.
This is a unique feature of bipeds, quadrupeds don’t have these secondary curves. Take our closest cousins, chimpanzees, as an example, they have long C-shaped spines. Yes, chimps can walk on two legs but it is nothing more than an inefficient waddle, they are not very good at it and you don’t see them do it for long. Chimp pelvises are also longer and narrower compared to ours! Human pelvises have evolved to become shorter and wider, all the better to support an upright trunk and efficient bipedal gait. Evolution has got our back, literally!
Can you Change your Spinal Curvatures?
How come some people have increased or decreased curvatures? This is largely genetics. The shape and size of your vertebrae determine the shape of your curvatures. This means no manner and no amount of adjustment or manipulation can ever change the shape of your curvatures. Other factors can influence the curvatures of your spine, such as back strength and underlying medical conditions e.g. osteoporosis. These you can change, you can get stronger so you can better stay upright against gravity, you can also make sure your nutrition, especially your calcium intake, is adequate to support a healthy spine.
Spinal Curvature and Back Pain.
If I have increased or decreased spinal curvatures, does it mean I am destined to have back pain? No. Pain is a multifactorial experience, no one thing can explain away someone’s pain. Your spine may be one of the many contributing factors to your pain experience, sure, but it is definitely not ever the only factor. Curvatures in your spine are not a predictor of back pain. You can have increased or decreased curvatures in your spine and not have back pain. Conversely, you can have middle-of-the-road curvatures and have back pain.
Your spine is robust and strong and it is made for movement. Strength and mobility are important so nourish your spine with regular movement for a healthy and resilient spine.
’Til next time, Be Free In Your Movement™.
This information is not medical advice. Got health concerns? Consult a real-life health professional.
Views are my own.