Trained in dentistry, Sree is currently studying lab sciences. She enjoys researching various health topics and writing about her findings.
"Sit up straight!"
"Try putting a pillow between your body and your bed!"
We've heard these sentences before. Once, twice, or many times, in fact - from our parents, perhaps, or from our teachers, or our exercise instructors. Ramrod-straight posture allows us to distinguish soldiers, police and security personnel, and fashion models and pageant contestants, from everyone else in a crowd. It allows them to seem to stand taller, and to have a more imposing physical presence, so it seems to be a positive or attractive trait.
On the other hand, we also think that people who are too "stiff" cannot or will not change their beliefs or attitudes, or might be too stubborn, or act in a haughty manner because they see themselves as being superior to others.
Difficult as it might sometimes be to train our bodies into straight-postured positions, the idea is that in the long run we'll get used to these positions, and so we'll always look physically imposing as well as competent and capable, as military people and fashion models do.
There's another reason why we're encouraged to position our bodies in a certain way, and that reason has to do with our backs. More specifically, our backbones. Also known as the spinal column or simply as the spine, the human backbone is a critical part of the arrangement of bones that we refer to as the skeleton. Together with the rib cage and the breastbone (the sternum), the backbone helps support and gives better shape to the human torso.
Because humans have backbones, we are placed in the same category as all other organisms with whom we have this particular collection of bones in common, such as bony fish, birds, amphibians, mammals, and reptiles. Together, we are all referred to as vertebrates.
The backbone of the typical vertebrate usually has a cavity running its length; this cavity is referred to as the spinal canal. The spinal cord of an animal - or of a human being - is enclosed inside the spinal canal, and so the backbone has the additional function of protecting this vital part of the nervous system.
The Backbone: an Essential Part of the Human Skeleton
In humans, the backbone is usually composed of thirty-three segments of bones, which are called vertebrae. (The singular form of the word vertebrae is vertebra.) Counting from the skull downwards, the first twenty-four vertebrae can move independently from each other, and are separated from each other by intervertebral discs. Without these discs, the backbone wouldn't have any flexibility at all. More importantly, however, these discs function as the shock absorbers for the different forces that act upon the back and the shoulders.
The vertebrae of the backbone are divided into regions depending on their locations in the spine. At the very top, joining the backbone to the skull, are the cervical vertebrae. The most important segments in this region are the first and second segments of the vertebra, known respectively as the atlas and the axis. The skull and its moving parts rest on these two segments, and these two segments provide support for the movements of the skull.
The next regions of the backbone contain the thoracic vertebrae and then the lumbar vertebrae. These bones run down the length of the human torso from the shoulders down to just above the hips. When we think about the backbone, these are usually the bones that we first associate with that term.
The vertebrae in these three regions can move somewhat independently of each other; in contrast, the vertebrae in the next region, known as the sacrum, are fused into one single piece by the time a human normally reaches adulthood. This part of the backbone supports and gives additional shape to the human pelvis.
Last of all is the coccyx, also known as the tailbone -- and as might be guessed from that alternative name, this part of the spine is all that remains of the tail that our evolutionary ancestors used to have, and that the monkeys -- our cousins on the family tree -- still have. As is true of the rest of the backbone, the coccyx helps to support the weight of our bodies, particularly when sitting down.
The specific shape of a typical vertebra allows it to have several functions. As mentioned earlier, the vertebrae, linked together into the backbone, enclose and protect the spinal column; through holes in each individual vertebra, the nerves that branch off from the spinal column can link to other parts of the human body. The projections in each vertebra, which are called processes, serve as attachment points for various ligaments and muscles. Some vertebrae also connect with other bones, such as the thoracic vertebrae which connect with the rib bones.
As it is so critical to the shape of the human body, as well as to many functions performed by different tissues and organs within the body, the backbone is a topic of great importance and concern to scientists and, in particular, medical doctors. Diseases of the backbone include congenital disorders such as spina bifida. However, most of the time, we hear about problems of the backbone that are caused by injury, such as the displacement of the vertebrae.
We also hear about problems with a slipped disc. In this condition, an intervertebral disc is damaged in such a way that the soft, gel-like material within bulges out of the confines of the disc, causing a hernia. Professional athletes and people who live a sedentary lifestyle alike can be prone to this medical condition.
Earlier, we mentioned the idea of the connection between a "straight", attractive posture -- but the odd truth about the backbone is, it isn't straight at all. In its best and healthiest state, the human backbone is actually curved in several places. Think of it as a series of S-shaped curves.
The cervical vertebrae are curved inward, although this particular curve is not very pronounced. This curve is necessary to help support and bear the weight of the head.
The thoracic vertebrae are curved outward so that there is more space within the torso for the organs that are contained within, such as the lungs (which, in addition to their usual size, also inflate and deflate as we breathe, requiring room for expansion).
The lumbar vertebrae are curved inward; this is an adaptation that is related to standing and walking upright, and it allows for the weight of the upper body to be properly supported by the bones of the pelvis and of the legs. The curve in this part of the backbone is more marked in the female human being, as compared to the male.
The sacral vertebrae are curved outward so that there is more space within the pelvis for the reproductive system and the lower part of the digestive system.
The curves exhibited by the cervical and the lumbar vertebrae are also described using the adjective lordotic; while the curves exhibited by the thoracic and sacral vertebrae are described using the adjective kyphotic.
What is Lordosis?
Humans are created with curves in various parts of their body, including the curves in the upper and lower back. It is quite normal for the area between the ribs and buttocks to be concave since this shape gives the spine a higher level of endurance against shock, but if the curvature or arch in the upper back is too pronounced or swaybacked, it could lead to various complications. The same goes for the curve at the back of the neck: a slight curve is normal, but sometimes when the neck curves excessively forward, it causes strain, pain, and other complications.
This excessive curve of the spine at the neck is known as cervical lordosis and is characterized by an exaggerated C shape of the upper back, right below the skull, while lumbar lordosis is a swaybacked curve of the lower spine that pushes the stomach forward. Below, you'll find information about what causes lordosis, what it looks like, and exercises to correct it.
What Causes a Curved Spine?
What causes cervical or lumbar lordosis? These factors include:
- Slouching due to poor posture, especially when seated for a long period of time.
- Heredity. Some people may inherit the genes that cause the degradation of the spinal column with age.
- Trauma and stress.
- Strain. This is common among people whose jobs involve a high level of manual labor.
- Osteoporosis or the degradation over time of the bones in the spine.
- Obesity. About 90% of obese people suffer from lordosis because their backs have been strained by carrying excess weight.
Though not everyone who has any of these predisposing factors develops cervical or lumbar lordosis, those who do have it need not lose hope. Lordosis can be reversed, though it will take a lot of time and effort to achieve results.
What are the Causes of Lordosis?
Causes: Loss of Cervical Lordosis
As was mentioned earlier, if the cervical vertebrae exhibit a slight inward curve, this is normal; this helps to support the weight of the skull, brain, and the rest of the head. It is when that slight inward curve is lost that the patient may begin to suffer various health problems, such as pain and stiffness in the neck, vertigo, and more.
If the loss of cervical lordosis is severe enough, the normal inward curve may reverse itself and become an outward curve. This reversal may alternatively be referred to as cervical kyphosis.
The stability of the cervical vertebrae, and therefore its ability to resist the loss of normal lordosis, is dependent on several different parts of the backbone and other parts of the body. In this case, since the vertebrae in question are the ones that support the head itself, the bones themselves need to be strong enough to support the head, and resist the forward pull of the weight of the head.
The same is true for the various muscles and ligaments in the area, particularly those that are anchored in the upper part of the back. Any problems or weak points in any of these bones, tissues, or muscles may lead to the loss of normal lordosis, or the onset of kyphosis.
In some cases, cervical kyphosis has its roots in a congenital defect. This means that the condition arises from genetic abnormalities, which then result in the incomplete formation or development of the backbone. If the kyphosis is the result of a congenital problem, the rest of the vertebrae may be prevented from developing into normal shapes.
A child with congenital cervical kyphosis may exhibit other birth defects, such as problems with the kidneys and the urinary system.
It is possible to correct congenital cervical kyphosis by means of surgery -- but the condition has to be promptly and correctly diagnosed, and the surgery must take place in a timely manner. This kind of surgical correction can prevent the kyphosis from becoming permanent, and allow the child's backbone to develop along more normal lines.
If surgery is not performed, the child will need to be closely monitored by means of frequent follow-up visits to the doctor, so that there will be time to prevent or correct other problems related to kyphosis.
More often than not, the loss of normal cervical lordosis becomes more pronounced with advancing age. That is to say, aging in and of itself can become the cause of cervical kyphosis. Time and stress can cause considerable wear and tear on the bones -- and this is also true not just for the vertebrae but also for the intervertebral discs.
A lifetime of activity can cause the intervertebral discs to collapse, grow thinner, or slip out of alignment -- and as a result, the head begins to tilt forward, causing the cervical vertebrae to curve differently. Brittle bones linked to osteoporosis have also been implicated in the loss of normal cervical lordosis.
Some people, regardless of age, may have problems leading to the loss of normal cervical lordosis as a result of trauma to the body, such as a car or motorcycle crash or a sports injury. These kinds of impacts can cause what are known as compression fractures to the vertebrae -- simply put, the affected vertebra collapses into a wedge shape.
The altered shape of the vertebra likewise changes the curvature of that part of the backbone. If the compression fracture affects a cervical vertebra, loss of normal cervical lordosis may occur.
Cervical kyphosis may also be the result of surgery that affects other parts of the backbone, or the spinal column itself. For example, it may occur after an operation that was originally meant to relieve pressure on the nerves of the spinal column by taking out parts of some vertebrae. While this kind of surgery is used to reduce inflammation in the nerves, it may negatively affect the patient's normal cervical lordosis.
Fortunately, the problem of cervical kyphosis is usually treatable. The treatment regimen depends on whether the loss of normal cervical lordosis is putting pressure on the spinal cord itself. If that is the case, then a doctor may recommend surgery. The procedure may involve the insertion of a rod or plate into the backbone to help it stay in the correct alignment.
However, spinal surgery should be considered as a last resort.
Causes: Lumbar Hyperlordosis
This condition, referred to colloquially as "swayback", occurs when either the lumbar vertebrae or the muscles of the lower body are placed under extreme stress or are forced to bear too much weight, forcing the backbone to arch inward more than it normally should, to the point of causing muscle pain or spasms.
It is easy to tell when a person might have lumbar hyperlordosis. Ask him to lie face up on a relatively hard surface, and observe his lower back. A small area of separation between the lower back and the hard surface indicates normal lumbar lordosis; a large area of separation indicates lumbar hyperlordosis. When standing upright, on the other hand, a person with lumbar hyperlordosis appears to be standing in such a way as to make his buttocks seem extremely prominent.
Similar to what was described above for cervical kyphosis, the ability of the lumbar vertebrae to stay in their normal curve and alignment, and therefore their ability to resist being drawn into an excessive curve, is dependent on other parts of the body. In lumbar hyperlordosis, problems with certain muscles may be looked into as part of the cause; for example, the patient may have weak hamstrings, or short hip flexors. Problems with the bones themselves may be investigated, as well.
The difficulty lies partly in the sheer amount of weight that the lumbar vertebrae must support -- these bones must be able to bear the weight of the entire upper body and the head. Any weaknesses or excessive weight in any part of the body above the waist can put that much stress on the lumbar vertebrae. In addition, the lumbar vertebrae are exposed to the same risk or likelihood for injury as the rest of the backbone, creating more chances for the occurrence of lumbar hyperlordosis.
Some children naturally exhibit some degree of lumbar hyperlordosis in their earlier years -- and just as naturally, these children can literally grow out of the condition, as continued physical development corrects the curves of the spine over time. This is referred to as benign juvenile lordosis.
In many cases, the underlying cause of lumbar hyperlordosis is a condition called achondroplasia. More commonly known as one of the conditions that cause dwarfism, this congenital condition can manifest in a variety of ways, including short stature, short fingers and toes, large heads (including prominent foreheads), and bowed legs or knock knees. Spinal defects are common, and the individual can be affected by either excessive kyphosis or excessive lordosis.
Another common cause of lumbar hyperlordosis is spondylolisthesis. In general, this is when a vertebra comes out of alignment, usually by slipping forward relative to the natural curve of the backbone. In spondylolisthesis, the entire back stiffens up and the hamstrings are tightened, resulting in changes to posture and gait; this may force the patient to lean forward or backward in an exaggerated way, in order to more properly carry the body's weight.
There are five categories of spondylolisthesis: the first is isthmic, in which the vertebra comes out of alignment due to a fracture that took place during childhood or youth, but was not diagnosed or treated; as a result, the fractured vertebra heals in a way that it slips forward. The symptoms of isthmic spondylolisthesis then manifest in adulthood, long after it was possible to prevent them from occurring.
The second category is degenerative spondylolisthesis. The vertebra comes out of alignment as a result of arthritis, which often accompanies aging. This is more frequently observed in people over fifty, in women, and in African-Americans.
The third category is traumatic spondylolisthesis. As with isthmic spondylolisthesis, the affected vertebra is subjected to fracture as a result of massive physical trauma. The break may occur in other parts of the vertebra.
The fourth category is pathologic spondylolisthesis. The affected bones slip out of alignment as a result of bone disease. It can be caused by bone-related cancers, cancers that metastasize from other sites in the body, or tuberculosis.
The fifth category is dysplastic spondylolisthesis. There are congenital abnormalities present in the vertebrae themselves, which makes it more likely that they will slip out of alignment.
Some cases of lumbar hyperlordosis are precipitated by osteoporosis, which has already been mentioned in the discussion for cervical kyphosis. As we age, the body's ability to restore normal bone density and grow new bone matter declines.
This results in our bones becoming more and more brittle as we grow older, leading to higher risks of different kinds of fractures -- including fractures in the vertebrae that make up the backbone. Women are at a higher risk of suffering from osteoporosis, as menopause leads to a decline in the levels of estrogen, and this increases the rate at which bone loss takes place.
Discitis is another common root cause for lumbar hyperlordosis; the difference is that it's not the vertebrae that are affected, but the intervertebral discs. Discitis refers to an infection of the space between the intervertebral discs and the vertebrae.
Bacteria from an infection within the body, such as in the respiratory or urinary system, can spread to the backbone and cause discitis; it can also come from bacteria that are usually found in the skin, but this form of discitis is usually indicated in a post-operative situation. If left untreated, this infection can cause severe back pain, and the patient may bend the backbone in extreme ways in order to find temporary relief.
Earlier, we discussed a form of spondylolisthesis that is related to the spread of cancer through the body, causing lumbar hyperlordosis; now we will turn to actual bone cancer, often referred to as osteosarcoma, which can also cause the lumbar vertebrae to come out of alignment due to the growth of tumors in the bone matter itself.
These days, more doctors are observing the rise of lumbar hyperlordosis in people who are obese. Remember that the lumbar vertebrae usually help to support the entire weight of the upper body when walking or standing. Obesity or being overweight places a corresponding strain on those bones, as well as on the bones of the lower body.
Effects of Poor Posture
At the beginning of this article, there was a brief discussion of perceptions related to people with good posture: they are often viewed as wielding authority or as being competent in their chosen fields of work.
What is posture anyway? Typically, in the way we use it in ordinary conversation, we are talking about the "carriage of the body as a whole, the attitude of the body, or the position of the limbs (the arms and legs)", which is how the term is defined in the Webster's New Medical Dictionary. Having "good" posture means that the body is carried in such a way that its movements and positions seem natural and unforced, and with a general air of ease, which people might find attractive.
That leads us to the next point, which is that the idea of good posture is directly related to the condition referred to as neutral spine. This means that the body is placed into positions where the smallest possible amount of strain is placed on the bones, muscles, ligaments, and other components that bear the body's weight.
Whether standing up, sitting down, lying down, or moving, good posture means that the various load-bearing parts of the body are not twisted into unnatural positions, are not under abnormal strain caused by faulty alignment, and are not subjected to pain even after staying in a certain position or performing a certain action for a long time.
Poor posture has become a worldwide problem: how many times have you complained of pain in your neck and lower back after a long day of hunching over your keyboard? How many times have you suffered from pains in the neck after falling asleep on public transportation, with your head tipped unnaturally against the seat in front of you, or the back of your seat, or the window? How many times have you strained against the heavy weight of an overloaded backpack or purse or duffel bag?
These are all situations in which you are forcing your body into poor posture. These are all situations in which you are forcing your bones and joints to do much more work than they're meant to do. These are all situations in which you are putting yourself in danger of knocking the parts of your backbone out of alignment.
Did you know that sitting for eight hours a day is bad for your health? Among other things, sitting for extended periods of time causes muscles to degenerate, bones to soften, and blood pressure to rise to unhealthy levels.
Now what if you were sitting down for eight hours a day -- with poor posture? Craning your neck too far forward to peer at a keyboard or the screen of your mobile phone can result in loss of normal cervical lordosis. The backbone itself can become more rigid as a result of proteins in the body hardening around the vertebrae and intervertebral discs.
Speaking of intervertebral discs, the ones located between your lumbar vertebrae can be placed at greater risk for hernias, meaning that your hip flexors will be forced to take more of your weight than they should -- and when they become weaker as a result, lumbar hyperlordosis may follow in shortly.
Bones Involved in Cervical and Lumbar Lordosis
The various treatments and therapies for the reversal of cervical or lumbar lordosis involve an understanding of the different parts of the spine, which include:
- The Cervical Vertebrae, the part of the spine that goes from the skull to just above the shoulders.
- The Thoracic Vertebrae, the part of the spine that goes from the shoulders to the middle of the chest area. This segment is normally convex (curved outward).
- The Lumbar Vertebrae, the part of the spine located in the abdominal area. This segment is normally concave (curving outward).
- The Sacrum, located in the pelvic area, normally convex.
- The Coccyx or tailbone, the slight protrusion at the lower end of the spinal column in the buttocks. This is the part of the spine that first absorbs the impact of forcefully falling on one's behind.
Why Is Reversal of Cervical and Lumbar Lordosis Important?
Proper posture is not the only reason why reversal of cervical and lumbar lordosis is necessary. Other reasons include:
- The spinal column is specifically designed to be curved in the right places and at the right degrees. Any excess or lack in the curvature of the spine could result to spinal injury since the vertebrae are no longer positioned at the right angle to absorb shock properly. Over time, the vertebrae become brittle and the individual runs the risk of developing diseases of the spinal column like degenerative disc or joint disease which cause pain and worse if left untreated.
- Improper curvature of the spinal column could also result in an insufficient supply of oxygen and nutrients to the brain. This may manifest in bouts of dizziness, nausea, fatigue, headaches, tinnitus, pain, and/or insomnia. A lordosis patient can suffer from hypertension, or moments of confusion due to impaired blood flow to the brain.
- Reversal of cervical and lumbar lordosis is also necessary so the individual can avoid the risk of developing osteoporosis and other ailments characterized by a severely misaligned spine.
Lordosis has different effects on each individual. Some people may develop further health complications, while others are able to live out the rest of their lives with an overly curved spine. However, people with slight cases of cervical lordosis should not become overconfident. No one wants to end up in a spinal brace or have the problems extend down to their hips, arms, or legs.
Treating Cervical Kyphosis
Medical science has advanced to the point where it has become much easier to correct the various spine curvature disorders, including cervical kyphosis and lumbar hyperlordosis.
In the case of the first condition, there are both conservative and invasive approaches. Selecting one or the other approach is greatly dependent on the severity of the case and of its symptoms.
The conservative approach to treating cervical kyphosis can be presented by a doctor if the patient should have a relatively minor case. With this approach, anti-inflammatory medications are prescribed to deal with the pain. The patient is also advised to perform exercises that will help in correcting the misalignment of the cervical vertebrae.
In more severe cases, a more stringent course of physical therapy may be recommended.
Depending on the severity of the patient's cervical kyphosis, the use of a cervical collar (informally referred to as a "neck brace") may be prescribed.
If the doctor finds that the degree to which the cervical vertebrae have come out of alignment has begun to threaten the stability of the spinal cord itself, or the nerves that branch away from the spinal cord, then surgery can be suggested as the next possible course of treatment.
However, the idea of surgery to correct the misaligned vertebrae of the neck should be approached with extreme caution. These procedures tend to have some degree of risk attached to them. There is a chance of affecting other nerves or parts of the spinal cord, and there is a greater risk of various post-operative conditions. Surgery to correct cervical kyphosis should be considered only if there are no other options.
Treating Lumbar Hyperlordosis
There are many similarities between the treatment of cervical kyphosis and that of lumbar hyperlordosis; only the location of the affected vertebrae is different. For example, a mild case of lumbar hyperlordosis can be treated through the use of mild painkillers, and the patient will be advised to perform various stretches and exercises to help bring the lumbar vertebrae back into better alignment.
If the condition is more advanced, then a stricter course of physical therapy, performed under the supervision of medical personnel, may be prescribed.
Since one of the major health issues related to lumbar hyperlordosis is obesity, a patient who presents with both conditions may be advised to lose weight. Exercise, a more healthful diet, and sometimes gastric surgery may be recommended, and there may be some improvement after the patient has shed the excess weight.
Various back braces are available to treat different kinds of spinal curvature disorders. While these braces see more use by patients who have scoliosis, they are also prescribed for use in the case of healing compression fractures, and can provide necessary support against aggravating a case of lumbar hyperlordosis.
As in the case of patients with cervical kyphosis, surgery to correct lumbar hyperlordosis may be indicated as the last resort. These procedures carry a similar degree of risk as those intended to correct cervical kyphosis.
Exercises to Improve Neck Spine Curvature and Neck Posture
Abnormal or excessive curvature of these areas of the vertebrae should not be a cause for too much worry since it can still be reversed. In mild cases, the reversal of cervical lordosis can be achieved by doing the following exercise routine daily:
- Flexing the neck back and forth gently, as though in the act of nodding yes. Stretch your head forward and down so your chin tucks into your neck and you are looking at the floor, then slowly bring your head up again. This should be done sporadically throughout the day, five repetitions each time.
- Retracting the neck while keeping a forward-facing stance: Stand straight, facing straight, and gently pull your head back an inch or two, just enough to feel the stretch, as if your jaw were on a flat shelf and you were sliding it back. This posture can be held for about five seconds before you slowly bring the chin forward to its normal position. Some people remark that they look like a chicken when they perform this exercise. This posture counteracts the stretched-forward neck position that is common among people who are suffering from cervical lordosis.
- Lift your face to the ceiling, letting your head tilt back and keeping it at that position for about five seconds before gently bringing the head back to the upright position. Make sure you are standing straight and have your shoulders squared as you repeat this exercise 10 or 20 times, at least once a day. You can add resistance to this exercise by putting your hands together and fitting your fingertips beneath your chin, very gently pushing upwards. This exercise may be performed while sitting or standing.
- Lying flat on the floor, flatten and push the back of your neck gently down towards the floor, then lift your head up off the floor about an inch so that you're looking down towards your feet. Hold for 5 seconds, then slowly lower your head again, pressing your neck flat once again. Repeat 10 times. The stretching of the neck muscles on this step also helps alleviate headaches.
- Lying face-down and flat on the floor, place your forehead against a rolled-up towel. Keep your arms at your sides with the palms of your hands toward the floor. Touch the tip of your tongue to the roof of your mouth to stabilize the muscles in the front of your neck. Pinch your shoulder blades together and lift your hands away from the floor, making sure to roll your elbows toward your body so the palms of your hands begin to face outwards.
- Then gently lift your forehead about an inch or so away from the rolled-up towel. Keep looking at the floor as you hold your position for ten seconds. Perform the stretch ten times to make up one set.
- Stand up straight, facing a wall; make sure that you are only about six to eight inches away from the wall’s surface. Tilt your head back, and hold a roll of paper towels in place on the bridge of your nose so that the roll covers your eyes. Hold the ends of the roll and gradually lean forward so that the roll, your chest, and your chin are touching the wall. Then drop your hands to your sides, keeping your chin in contact with the wall.
- Slowly nod your head up and down, so your chin comes away from the wall and then returns. Then hold your chin, chest, and the roll of paper towels against the wall for at least ten seconds. You can do this exercise multiple times per day.
Do these exercises at least once a day. As you get stronger, more repetitions and sessions of each exercise can be added to your workout.
Gentle Neck Exercises to Correct Lordosis
Exercises to Improve Back Spine Curvature and Back Posture
- Stretch Your Hip Flexor. A tightness at your hip flexor can cause the opposite group of muscles–your gluteal muscles– to weaken. Stretching your hip flexor is a good start towards pelvic alignment. Standing straight with your knees together, bend your right leg at the knee, bringing the right foot up towards your butt in back, and reach your right hand back to grab your ankle. Gently stretch your leg while tilting your hips forward and hold this stretched position for 25-30 seconds before repeating on your left side.
- Work Your Gluteal Muscles. Lay down on your back on the floor facing with your knees up and feet flat on the floor. Lift your hips about 5 inches off the floor (with your feet and shoulders bearing the weight), stretch your hip bones towards the ceiling, and squeeze your butt muscles. Hold for 10-15 seconds before slowly returning to the starting position. Repeat 20 times.
- Lower Back Stretch. Lying on the floor on your back, bring both knees up slowly to your chest and hold for 15-30 seconds before slowly bringing both legs back down to the floor. Repeat 5-10 times. When your knees are up and you're holding them, some say that gently rocking and pushing that sacral area into the floor helps.
- Work Your Stomach. Abdominal muscles play a huge role in good posture. Lie down on the floor facing up, bend your knees with your feet flat on the floor, then flatten your spine by pushing your lower back into the floor. Supporting your head with your hands, lift your shoulders slowly off the floor to a 30 degrees angle and slowly back down. You should feel a slow crunching of your abdominal muscles. Repeat 10 times.
- Work Your Sides. Lie on the floor on your back with your knees bent and both feet flat on the floor. Drop both legs to the right slowly so that your spine is gently twisted and rest your right knee on the floor. Push your lower back arch back into the floor and hold it there for the duration of this exercise. Slowly lift both your shoulders off the floor a couple inches, hold for 5 seconds, and slowly lower both shoulders to the floor. Even though your right shoulder is higher, concentrate on lifting both shoulders. You should feel a crunching of your stomach muscles on the left side. Repeat 10-15 times and then repeat on your left side.
Do these exercises at least once a day. As you get stronger, more repetitions and/or sessions of each exercise can be added to your workout.
If you have an exercise ball, there are more exercises and more stretches that you can do to help strengthen your back muscles. Here are just a few examples.
- Rock Back and Forth. Sit on the exercise ball, keeping your back straight and your arms to the sides or on your hips. Slowly pull your stomach muscles in, moving hips slightly toward the front; the aim is to flatten the small of the back. Return to your original position.
Then, arch the small of your back slightly, moving your hips toward the back. Return to your original position. These exercises may take some getting used to, but as soon as you feel comfortable and confident with these movements, do them on the exercise ball to create a set of ten repetitions.
- Rock from Side to Side. Sit on the exercise ball, keeping your back straight and your arms to the sides or on your hips. Slowly, maintaining spinal alignment and curvature, shift weight to the right, then return to your original position. Then shift weight to the left, before returning to your original position. As soon as you feel comfortable and confident with these movements, do them on the exercise ball to create a set of ten repetitions, alternating between shifting your weight right and then left.
- Rock in Circles. Sit on the exercise ball, keeping your back straight and your arms to the sides or on your hips. Slowly pull your stomach muscles in, moving hips slightly toward the front; the aim is to flatten the small of the back. Then slowly and carefully shift your weight in a circular motion. Do this exercise clockwise three times, then do it counter-clockwise three times.
There are various stretches and positions in yoga that can help you to strengthen your back muscles, in particular the muscles supporting your lumbar vertebrae. Here are just a few examples.
- Supine Hamstring Stretch. Lie down on the floor or on a yoga mat, face up. Bend your right knee up and into your chest, then loop a resistance band or a rolled-up towel around your foot. Stretch your right leg up to the ceiling, and press your weight outwards through both heels.
If you feel pain in your lower back during this stretch, you can bring your left knee up and plant your left foot on the floor or on the mat. Hold the position for at least three minutes, then switch to your left leg and hold again for at least three minutes.
- Two-Knee Twist. Lie down on the floor or on a yoga mat, face up. Raise your arms to the sides so that they form the vertical arm of a T-shape. Keeping your knees together, inhale and then bend them up into your chest, then exhale and lower your knees to the floor to the right.
Press down firmly into the mat or the floor with both shoulders. Hold for two minutes. Then inhale, bend your knees up into your chest again, before exhaling as you lower your knees to the floor to the left. Hold for another two minutes.
- Sphinx Pose. Lie down on the floor or on a yoga mat, face down. Raise your upper body off the floor, propping it up on your forearms. Make sure that your elbows and shoulders are aligned. Press down firmly into the mat or the floor with the palms of your hands and the tops of your feet, and press down and forward with your pubic bone. Hold for two minutes.
Exercises to Ease Lumbar Lordosis
Additional Help for Correcting Cervical and Lumbar Lordosis
If you have a hard time doing any of the exercises mentioned above, you can use support props like pillows to stabilize the area while you're exercising or sleeping. You can also use traction wedges and/or orthotics that are specifically designed to correct the exaggerated curve and help maintain a proper posture. You might also seek the aid of a chiropractor or a physical therapist who can offer guidance and reassurance.
There are a few cases wherein the cervical or lumbar lordosis has progressed to the point where surgery may be necessary for the reversal to be successful.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.
Gary on February 16, 2018:
I am a 61 year old male who injured my back in 1985 lifting extremely heavy building material daily and had done so since the age of 12 years.
Bending and twisting pulling and carrying heavy loads on my shoulders without taking time to use proper posture and lifting procedures, in doing so I hearniated L4,L5 -S1 in 1985 I did not stop and have the injuries surgically corrected until April of 2001 in doing so my posture continued deteriate i.e. (one part of body moving out of line to compensate for the damaged one, and then another part of my body compensating for that one,this went on for decades,until 2001 when I had to choose correvtive surgery I was introduced by a health care professional to a ( in no uncertain terms, most brilliant surgeon of neurology at a major Medical Hospital in Dallas, Texas.A MRI' Was PERFORMED identifying L4 lumbar disc degeneration/ herniation. The decision was made to remove the damaged disc but without fusion, a date was set and surgery was performed, my hopes were high this would correct the constant pain I endured for so many years. A week after surgery the pain did not subside.
Another MRI was scheduled looking for causes of the still present constant companion ,(Pain) that of which I endured for so many years. The radiologist spoke to me after the MRI saying well I found it and it's a whopper. There is one thing though and your not going to like it. It appears that the Brilliant surgeon who performed the original surgery removed the wrong disc and a healthy disc. To be exact ,Continuing he said I have spoken to him and he has refused to address and or schedule corrective surgery, you will have to find a different surgeon for the removal of the correct disc that requires removal and must be attended to without doubt. I am very sorry to inform you of this horrible reality. Then One month and three weeks later a second surgery was performed and the removal of the (whopper) disc was done. However the damage was also done and my constant companion (Pain) would remain with me until this day, February, 17,2018 all this being said I intend to correct my posture which is so out of whack from my body lending a helping hand to another part of my body over these so many years of being twisted, turned, knotted and out of any kind of proper alignment or balance. A posture that should have maintained many years ago to prevent the painthat for mehas never ceaced . Not by physical therapy,injections,braces etc. Howe ver there were many years of addiction to opoids that did kill the physical pain I will admit to be true, all the while creating a whole other problem in its wake, and good as they may have been in giving me relief of my constant companion, opioids are extremely difficult to stop taking because of the fact they work so well and without them one must endure what most are unable to endure for such long periods of time constant unrelenting pain. But stopping is not an option , one must Stop without a doubt stop as soon as possible, such strong addictive almost savioured relief that accompany them and addict so many who seek their help in relieve one from a hellish life of constant pain and not create another.
Do not do as I, do not let your body become out of proper posture and alignment, one part helping the other to continue,working,bending twisting lifting etc. Not for any amount of time, no pay, or prize is worth the pain that Will accompany a decision to continue to abuse a gift God himself has given each of us the human body a beauty in form and unique to all living things. Protect your body, for you will not get another. It's your posture that will keep you free from a hell I myself have endured for so long. No one should experience such a thing.
Correct and keep your posture in good and correct health and alignment and it will carrie you pain free all the days of your life.