Everyone’s back has some degree of arch or curve. Your spine is gently curved inward in the cervical area (neck) and the lumbar area (lower back).
“Arching your back” refers to exaggerating its natural curvature by pushing your chest and stomach forward and your bottom out. It can throw your body out of alignment and may cause pain or balance problems.
With normal posture, your spine is in alignment with your head and limbs.
Ideally, seen from the side, there should be a straight line from your head, through the middle of your ears and shoulders, to behind the center of your knee, and in front of the center of your ankle.
Good spinal alignment supports your ability to stand up straight, to move flexibly, and to prevent pain.
Poor posture can lead to too much back arch, a condition called hyperlordosis and sometimes simply lordosis. This is reversible with stretching and exercise.
It’s not a good idea to deliberately arch your back for prolonged periods of time. In the long term it can cause muscle loss and pain. Arching will shorten and tighten your back and leg muscles over time. That said, arching your back briefly — during certain yoga poses, for example — will not have negative consequences.
Everyone’s posture is different, and there are distinct types of posture misalignment. Your spinal alignment may change with age, it may change because of injury or surgery, or you may have been born with abnormal curvature in your spine.
If your spine is not in a neutral alignment, check with a healthcare professional for guidance on correcting the curvature and strengthening the supporting muscles.
Some weightlifters deliberately arch their back while doing a barbell squat, a topic that is discussed on sports sites. The experts agreed that too much arching over the long term can cause back pain and injury. It’s best to keep your back neutral during squats, in a natural, slightly curved position.
The scientific evidence backs this up. A 2010 kinematic review article concluded that it’s “advisable to maintain a neutral spine throughout performance of the squat, avoiding any excessive spinal ﬂexion or extension.” Arching during a squat heightens the compressive forces on your spine by an average of 16 percent.
Hyperlordosis, too much curve in your back, can result in pain, a slipped disk, or other spinal injury. Most often, lordosis is the long-term result of bad posture.
Other factors that can contribute to hyperlordosis include:
- being overweight
- weak core muscles
- wearing high-heeled shoes for long periods
- spinal injury or disc problems
- diseases such as rickets or osteoporosis
- neuromuscular diseases, such as cerebral palsy
- sedentary lifestyle and lack of exercise
When your spine is excessively arched, it puts additional stress on muscles in your trunk, thighs, and hamstrings. Your muscles can become out of balance, tight, or weak.
This in turn contributes to lower back pain. It can affect your gait and balance.
Hyperlordosis is also associated with stress fractures in vertebrae.
If you’re over-arching your back and have back pain, see your doctor to determine the cause. They can rule out spinal injury or other physical problems that require special treatment.
The doctor may refer you to a physical therapist, orthopedist, or neurologist, depending on the diagnosis.
They may also prescribe over-the-counter pain medication, such as acetaminophen (Tylenol), ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), or naproxen (Aleve). If your weight is a factor in causing your back pain, the doctor may advise you to lose weight.
In some cases, especially with younger people, the doctor may prescribe a brace for your back.
The doctor may give you a set of exercises, or you may want to see a physical therapist to help design an exercise and stretching routine specifically for your age and physical condition.
But in most cases, you can fix an over-arched back and improve your posture on your own with regular stretches and strengthening exercises.
Here are some stretches that can help loosen tight muscles. You can find strengthening exercises for hyperlordosis here.
You can do these stretches daily.
Knee to chest
- Lie on your back on the floor or in bed, keeping back in neutral position.
- Bend one leg at the knee, bringing knee up to your chest with your hands; hold for 15 seconds.
- Return leg to a flat position.
- Repeat with the other leg.
- Do 3 to 5 repetitions with each leg.
If you can’t easily reach your knee to your chest, bring it up as far as you can comfortably. As you practice this stretch regularly, you’ll get a better stretch.
Both knees to chest
- Lie on your back on the floor or in bed, keeping back in a neutral position.
- Place your hands behind your knees and slowly pull knees up to chest until you feel a stretch.
- Hold for 20 seconds.
- Do 3 repetitions, twice a day.
- Lie on your back with your knees bent at 90 degrees, feet flat on floor and arms at sides.
- Squeezing buttock muscles lightly, lift hips off floor, about 5 inches. Keep your pelvis neutral, not tilted. Hold for 5 seconds.
- Do 5 repetitions, twice a day.
Crossed leg stretch
- Lie on your back with your arms stretched out to the side.
- Bend knees and cross one leg over the other.
- Rotate legs toward the side of your top leg until you feel a stretch.
- Rotate your head to the opposite side.
- Hold stretch for 20 seconds.
- Do 3 repetitions, twice a day.
Standing pelvic tilt
- Stand with your back against a wall, feet shoulder-width apart.
- Inhale and bend knees slightly.
- Exhale while tilting your pelvis up, away from the wall.
- Hold for a few seconds, relax, and return to your initial position.
- Do 5 or more repetitions.
Everyone’s back has a normal curvature or arch.
Deliberately arching your back can be harmful in the long term, tightening and shortening the muscles that support your spine.
Excessive arching of your back can result from bad posture, sitting too much, and other conditions. In most cases, you can reverse the damage — and pain — with regular stretches and strengthening exercises.