The phrase “curved spine” is enough to strike fear into the hearts of many people. However, this term may be a little misleading. A healthy human spine actually has natural curve to it.
The spine is often called “the backbone,” but is actually made up of a series of small bones called vertebrae, which are stacked one on top of the other, with some shock-absorbing disks in between. When the spine is viewed from the back of the body, it should go in a straight line down the center of the back, not curving to the left or right at any point. When viewed from the side, however, the spine should be shown to have some gentle curves. These curves help the spine absorb stress and shock.
While a healthy spine has these natural curves, an exaggeration or misalignment in any of these curves may cause problems. The three primary conditions caused by improper spinal curvature are lordosis, kyphosis, and scoliosis. Lordosis is an over-exaggeration of the inward curve of the lower back, or lumbar region. This is often known as swayback. Kyphosis is an over-exaggeration of the outward curvature of the upper back, in which a curve of 50* or greater causes the upper back to appear rounded. Scoliosis, likely the most well-known of these conditions, results in a person having a sideways curve to the spine. Each of these disorders has unique potential causes, but in general genetic predisposition, arthritis, injury, or deliberate poor posture may all contribute to lordosis or kyphosis. Doctors are not certain what causes scoliosis in most cases, but the condition does tend to run in families.
These conditions may each require unique treatment methods. Lordosis and kyphosis may both be treated with medications, physical therapy, exercises, using a back brace, or in extreme cases, surgery. Scoliosis is often the subject of observation, with visits to the doctor every four to six months to monitor changes in the severity of the curvature. It may be treated by use of back braces or, in extreme situations, corrective surgery.