Everyone’s spine curves a little in your neck, upper back, and lower back. These curves, which create your spine’s S shape, are called the lordotic (neck and lower back) and kyphotic (upper back). They help your body:
- absorb shock
- support the weight of the head
- align your head over your pelvis
- stabilize and maintain its structure
- move and bend flexibly
Lordosis refers to your natural lordotic curve, which is normal. But if your curve arches too far inward, it’s called lordosis, or swayback. Lordosis can affect your lower back and neck. This can lead to excess pressure on the spine, causing pain and discomfort. It can affect your ability to move if it’s severe and left untreated.
Treatment of lordosis depends on how serious the curve is and how you got lordosis. There’s little medical concern if your lower back curve reverses itself when you bend forward. You can probably manage your condition with physical therapy and daily exercises.
But you should see a doctor if the curve remains the same when you bend forward. Read on to find out what lordosis looks like and how your doctor will diagnose for it.
Lordosis can affect people of any age. Certain conditions and factors can increase your risk for lordosis. This includes:
- Spondylolisthesis: Spondylolisthesis is a spinal condition in which one of the lower vertebras slips forward onto the bone below. It's usually treated with therapy or surgery. Find out more about the condition here.
- Achondroplasia: Achondroplasia is one of the most common types of dwarfism. Learn about its causes, diagnosis, and treatment.
- Osteoporosis: Osteoporosis is a bone disease that causes a loss of bone density, which increases your risk of fractures. Learn about its causes, symptoms, and treatments.
- Osteosarcoma: Osteosarcoma is a bone cancer that typically develops in the shinbone near the knee, the thighbone near the knee, or the upper arm bone near the shoulder. Read more about symptoms, diagnosis, and treatments.
- Obesity: Obesity is an epidemic in the U.S. This condition puts people at a higher risk for serious diseases, such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. Learn about obesity here.
Lordosis in the lower back
Lordosis in the lower back, or lumbar spine, is the most common type. The easiest way to check for this condition is to lie on your back on a flat surface. You should be able to slide your hand under your lower back, with little space to spare.
Someone with lordosis will have extra space between their back and the surface. If they have an extreme curve, there’ll be a visible C-like arch when they stand. And from the side view, their abdomen and buttocks will stick out.
In a healthy spine, your neck should look like a very wide C, with the curve pointing toward the back of your neck. Cervical lordosis is when your spine in the neck region doesn’t curve as it normally should.
This can mean:
- There’s too much of a curve.
- The curve is running in the wrong direction, also called reverse cervical lordosis.
- The curve has moved to the right.
- The curve has moved to the left.
The most common symptom of lordosis is muscle pain. When your spine curves abnormally, your muscles get pulled in different directions, causing them to tighten or spasm. If you have cervical lordosis, this pain may extend to your neck, shoulders, and upper back. You may also experience limited movement in your neck or lower back.
You can check for lordosis by lying on a flat surface and checking if there’s a lot of space between the curve of your neck and back and the floor. You may have lordosis if you can easily slide your hand through the space.
Make an appointment with the doctor if you are experiencing other symptoms, such as:
- electric shock pains
- weak bladder control
- difficulty maintaining muscle control
These may be signs of a more serious condition such as a trapped nerve.
Often, lordosis appears in childhood without any known cause. This is called benign juvenile lordosis. It happens because the muscles around your child’s hips are weak or tightened up. Benign juvenile lordosis typically corrects itself as your children grow up.
Lordosis can also be a sign of a hip dislocation, especially if your child has been hit by a car or fallen somewhere.
Other conditions that can cause lordosis in children are normally related to the nervous system and muscle problems. These conditions are rare and include:
- cerebral palsy
- myelomeningocele, an inherited condition where the spinal cord sticks through a gap in the bones of the back
- muscular dystrophy, a group of inherited disorders that cause muscle weakness
- spinal muscular atrophy, an inherited condition that causes involuntary movements
- arthrogryposis, a problem that occurs at birth where the joints can’t move as much as normal
Many pregnant women experience back pains and will show the signs of lordosis, a protruding belly and buttocks. But according to Harvard Gaze, research shows that lordosis during pregnancy is actually your spine adjusting to realign your center of gravity.
Overall back pain may be due to altered blood flow in your body, and the pain will most likely go away after birth.
Your doctor will look at your medical history, perform a physical exam, and ask about other symptoms to help determine if you have lordosis. During the physical exam, your doctor will ask you to bend forward and to the side. They’re checking:
- whether the curve is flexible or not
- your range of motion
- if your spine is aligned
- if there’re any abnormalities
They may also ask questions like:
- When did you notice the excessive curve in your back?
- Is the curve getting worse?
- Is the curve changing shape?
- Where are you feeling pain?
After narrowing down the possible causes, your doctor will order tests, including X-rays of your spine to look at the angle of your lordotic curve. Your doctor will determine if you have lordosis based on the angle in comparison to other factors like your height, age, and body mass.
Most people with lordosis don’t require medical treatment unless it’s a severe case. Treatment for lordosis will depend on how severe your curve is and the presence of other symptoms.
Treatment options include:
- medication, to reduce pain and swelling
- daily physical therapy, to strengthen muscles and range of motion
- weight loss, to help posture
- braces, in children and teens
- surgery, in severe cases with neurological concerns
- nutritional supplements such as vitamin D
For most people, lordosis does not cause significant health problems. But it’s important to maintain a healthy spine since the spine is responsible for much of our movement and flexibility. Not treating lordosis could lead to long-term discomfort and an increased risk of problems with the:
- hip girdle
- internal organs
While there aren’t guidelines on preventing lordosis, you can perform some exercises to maintain good posture and spine health. These exercises can be:
- shoulder shrugs
- neck side tilts
- yoga poses, like Cat and Bridge pose
- leg raises
- pelvic tilt on a stability ball
Prolonged standing may also change the curve of your spine. According to one study, sitting significantly decreases changes in the lower back curve. If you find yourself standing a lot, due to work or habits, try taking sitting breaks. You’ll also want to make sure your chair has sufficient back support.
If the lordotic curve corrects itself when you bend forward (the curve is flexible), you do not need to seek treatment.
But if you bend over and the lordotic curve remains (the curve is not flexible), you should seek treatment.
You should also seek treatment if you're experiencing pain that interferes with your day to day tasks. Much of our flexibility, mobility, and daily activities depend on the health of the spine. Your doctor will be able to provide options for managing the excess curvature. Treating lordosis now can help prevent complications later in life, such as arthritis and chronic back pain.