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Spinal Curvature: When Back Bends Are Bad
During any chiropractic visit, your chiropractor will spend a time assessing the state of your spinal column. Read on for Groupon’s study of the many shapes our backs can take.
“One should first get a knowledge of the structure of the spine; for this is also requisite for many diseases.” These words are credited to the ancient Greek physician and medical pioneer Hippocrates, in his surgical treatise On the Joints. Having examined countless battlefield cadavers and penned some 60 medical texts, the man knew what he was talking about. He recognized the importance of spinal health in relation to keeping the rest of the body healthy, and even introduced terms—kyphosis and scoliosis—for two of the three primary spinal-curvature disorders recognized today.
Viewed from the back, a normal spine runs straight up and down. From the side, it curves in gently at the neck, out between the shoulders, back in at the torso, and out again around the lower back. Deviations from this shape can cause stress on other parts of the body, and they generally fall into three categories:
Lordosis: Also referred to as “swayback,” this condition occurs when the lower back curves excessively inward, creating a concave appearance from the side. Humans aren’t alone in suffering from swayback—older horses often develop a similar curvature in their spines from a combination of gravity and the gradual weakening of ligaments in their backs. Lordosis can cause stress on the lower back and is common in pregnant women and people who carry excess weight around their abdomens.
Kyphosis: The flip side of lordosis is kyphosis, a condition that arises from excessive outward curvature of the upper back. This condition can give rise to the appearance of a hunched back—it used to be colloquially referred to as “dowager’s hump” because it’s especially common in older women with osteoporosis. Kyphosis can develop over time due to age, slouching, or spending five years looking for a dropped contact lens.
Scoliosis: Perhaps the most widely known spine condition, scoliosis is a lateral, or side-to-side, curvature of the spine in either a “C” or “S” shape. Scoliosis usually sets in right before puberty and occurs more frequently in girls than in boys; a telltale sign of the condition is uneven hips and shoulders or a lean toward one side. Most cases are mild and require only regular observation to ensure that the curve doesn’t worsen, although severe scoliosis can impede lung function.