The main purpose of the spine is to support the body’s weight. However, it also provides stability to the torso, allows for flexibility & movement, and protects the spinal cord. Abnormal spinal curves may hinder or result in the inability of the spine to carry out any these functions.
The spinal column is composed of 24 vertebrae. There are 7 cervical vertebrae starting at the base of the skull and spanning the neck, 12 thoracic vertebrae located in the upper trunk of the body, and 5 lumbar vertebrae in the lower back.
A “normal” spine consists of both concave and convex curvatures front to back. However, when the curves become too extreme or the spine begins to curve laterally, painful spinal conditions may evolve. Common abnormal curvatures of the spine include kyphosis, lordosis, and scoliosis.
Understanding Abnormal Spinal Curves
Kyphosis is identified by an abnormal outward curvature of the thoracic spine. This type of spinal abnormality is most prevalent among the elderly population. People with this specific spinal abnormality may experience difficulty with balance because it tends to lead to an abnormal flexion of the spine. This can also increase compression and shear forces applied to the thoracic vertebrae, resulting in constant discomfort and inhibition of comfortable range of motion. Causes of Kyphosis can be years of poor posture such as anterior head carriage, or underlying inflammatory conditions such as AS (Ankylosing Spondylitis), Scheuermann disease or DISH (Diffuse Idiopathic Skeletal Hyperostosis).
Lordosis, sometimes called swayback, refers to and abnormally deep curvature of the lumbar spine. When this occurs, the person typically experiences low back pain and muscle spasms. While it is common in dancers and in individuals who do not lift weight properly, it is also prominent among those who have a muscular imbalance between the muscles of the abdomen and lower back. A combination of weak hamstrings and tight hip flexors has also been known to cause lordosis.
Scoliosis is a condition in which the spine curves laterally in the frontal plane. It typically occurs during puberty and is most common in females. The physical signs of scoliosis are uneven muscles on either side of the spine, uneven hips, arm, or legs, or an abnormal rib cage rotation. Secondary scoliosis can arise from neuromuscular conditions and uneven forces applied to the hips and back. To diagnose scoliosis, a doctor identifies curvatures of the spine greater than 10 degrees. The most reliable way to identify a scoliosis is by means of x-ray.
If the kyphosis or lordosis hasn’t progressed too far, chiropractic and physical therapy are both recommend to treat weakness and misalignments of the spine. However, if the spine is 50 degrees or greater outside the normal range of curvature, surgery may be required. A thorough exam, including range of motion, postural check and orthopedic tests can be administered to identify the condition of the spine. Chiropractic therapy can slow down, stop, or even reverse the signs of abnormal spinal curvature. Part of the treatment process includes custom exercises and stretches that will help strengthen weaker muscles to alleviate the unevenness.