Everybody’s spine has some form of curvature; normal spinal curves are part of our makeup and help our backs absorb shock. When you view a spine from the side, these gentle curves are clearly apparent, but when you view a healthy spine from the back, it runs or should run, straight down the center. A wide range of conditions can, however, lead to deformities of the spine commonly referred to as a curvature spine.
The medical term for the most common form of a curvature spine is scoliosis. This refers to a condition in which there is a sideways spinal curvature creating either a C shape or an S shape. Two other kinds of spinal curvature are also fairly common: kyphosis is a condition that results in a characteristic rounded upper back that curves by at least 50 degrees and lordosis are an inward curvature of the lower back. You can read more about posture and spinal curvature by downloading our award-winning free ebook on posture (Click here to download our posture ebook)
Symptoms and Causes
Symptoms of scoliosis can include a body shape in which one shoulder blade is higher than the other; a waist or hips that are uneven, and back pain.
There is a wide range of conditions that can cause scoliosis. It may be the result of a congenital defect such as cerebral palsy or spina bifida, or a degenerative condition perhaps triggered by an injury. The most common form, however, is idiopathic scoliosis, in other words, the condition has no specific cause.
Typical symptoms of lordosis include the appearance of a swayback or hollow back and pronounced buttocks; difficulties in moving in certain directions; and back pain.
Some of the conditions that can cause lordosis to include spondylolisthesis, a condition resulting from a slippage of a vertebra over a lower vertebra; osteoporosis resulting in fragile vertebrae that are susceptible to fracture; discitis which can occur as the result of an infection; and achondroplasia, a genetic disorder that is associated with dwarfism. It is also associated with obesity.
The main symptoms of kyphosis a body shape in which the head is bent forwards, a curved or humped upper back, and general weakness in the back and legs. Generally, mild kyphosis doesn’t cause pain through certain forms of it can be painful and debilitating. Patients with Kyphosis often report discomfort following exercise.
Kyphosis can also result from osteoporosis and infections of the spine. Other causes include Scheuermann’s disease which results in misshaped vertebrae; arthritis such as rheumatoid arthritis and gout; congenital defects including spina bifida; and tumors.
Diagnosis of more spine curvature conditions involves taking a detailed medical history and a physical examination of the curvature of the spine along with various imaging tests. X-rays are a useful way of detecting any spinal abnormalities and for assessing the extent of the curvature. MRI and CT scans are often used to provide a more detailed picture of the condition.
A modern technique that is being developed for providing a quantitative assessment of spinal curvature is fast 3-D ultrasound projection imaging (FUPI) (Jiang, Zhou, Lai, & Zheng, 2015).
Treatment generally depends on the type and severity of the curvature spine;
- Scoliosis In young people, scoliosis treatment is focused on reducing the extent of progression of the condition, perhaps with the use of a back brace, while in older people in whom the condition is no longer progressing, the main focus of treatment is in reducing the pain. This might be assisted by analgesics and anti-inflammatories, through exercise and physical therapy is usually highly beneficial. It is important to use exercises designed to strengthen the muscles in the back that support the spinal column. Recently it has been shown that scoliosis-specific exercises can reduce the progression of severe curves in adult idiopathic scoliosis (Negrini, et al., 2015). In severe cases, surgery might be necessary.
- Lordosis While analgesics and anti-inflammatories are generally used to relieve pain and inflammation, lordosis often responds to exercises designed to strengthen the hip extensor and flexor muscles on the back and front of the thighs. If the patient is obese, then a weight loss program is often called for. Manipulative therapy may also help. In more severe cases a back brace might be needed, and some patients might require surgery.
- Kyphosis Physical therapy is used to treat mild to moderate kyphosis. Generally, the aim is to use exercises designed to stretch the cervical spine. Where necessary analgesics and anti-inflammatories are used to relieve pain. In some cases, a brace that is individually tailored to the patient using CAD/CAM. Severe cases might require surgery, especially if the condition is progressive and poses a threat of further disability.
- Our 90-day postural correction program available in our free ebook on posture is a good start to help cover the basic exercises needed to build the foundations of good posture and spinal curvature (download the postural correction program with video exercises by clicking here)
Curvature spine refers to a range of conditions in which there is a spinal deformity. While the condition might be mild and require no more than regular monitoring and self-care, it can be painful, severe, debilitating, and even life-threatening.
If you believe that you or a member of your family might suffer from any of the conditions described above, your best course of action is to see your doctor for a diagnosis as soon as you are able to do so. Often, the condition can be treated by no more than exercise and physical therapy, though the sooner treatment commences the more effective it is likely to be.
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