Most people think of the spine as the straight column running the length of our body; while this is mostly true, in reality it’s a little more complex. The vertebrae that make up the spine are stacked in a way that appears straight when viewed from behind, but they actually form strategic and gentle curves when viewed from the side – these bends help absorb shock and stress as well as facilitate movement. When the spine becomes deformed due to conditions that cause it to curve incorrectly, it can lead to back pain.
There are different kinds of spinal curvature: lordosis causes the lower back to tuck inward, kyphosis causes the upper spine to curve outward, and scoliosis leads to a sideways curvature, resembling a C or S shape. These can be caused by genetics or, in some cases, by underlying conditions like osteoporosis or arthritis.
Spinal curvature can lead to postural abnormalities such as uneven shoulders or hips; these can affect movement and walking, causing the patient to favor one side of the body. This may lead to aches, stiffness, or pain. Muscles also adjust to the curvature, which may strain them in a way that becomes painful. Discs may start to degenerate, especially with conditions like arthritis, but this could also be the result of normal aging, which only compounds the pain from the curvature. For some people, physical activity or extended periods of standing may aggravate or cause back pain.
The severity of the back pain depends on the location and severity of the curvature, although the location usually has more effect on pain than the degree of curving: lower back curvature tends to cause more pain than upper back curves, for example. It can be problematic, however, especially in adults, to distinguish between normal back pain from strain or aging and pain from the curve. In children with scoliosis or other spinal curvatures, pain is less common than in adults, but it’s not unheard of.
Consult your doctor as to how to ease and treat any back pain you may be experiencing as a result of your spinal curvature. Bracing, pain medication, physical therapy, or even surgery, in severe cases, may be options for managing it.