Lordosis, also known as swayback, is a condition in which the spine in the lower back has an excessive curvature. The spine naturally curves at the neck, upper back, and lower back to help absorb shock and support the weight of the head. Lordosis occurs when the natural arch in the lower back, or lumbar region, curves more than normal. This can lead to excess pressure on the spine, causing pain.
People with lordosis often have a visible arch in their lower backs. When looking at them from the side, their lower backs form a defined “C” shape. In addition, people with swayback appear to be sticking out their stomachs and buttocks.
The easiest way to check for lordosis is to lie on your back on a hard surface. You should be able to slide your hand under your lower back, with little space to spare. If you have lordosis, you will have extra space between your hand and your low back.
Common causes of lordosis:
Often, lordosis appears in childhood without any known cause. This is called benign juvenile lordosis. However, lordosis can affect people of any age.
Other potential causes of lordosis include:
- poor posture
- osteoporosis (weakening of the bones with age)
- discitis (a disorder of the disks between the spinal vertebrae)
- kyphosis (an excessive outward curvature at the mid-back)
- spondylolisthesis (a condition in which one vertebra slips forward or backward relative to the next vertabra)
- achondroplasia (a form of dwarfism)
Excessive lordotic curvature is also called hyperlordosis, hollow back, saddle back, and swayback. Common causes of excessive lordosis include tight low back muscles, excessive visceral fat, and pregnancy. Although lordosis gives an impression of a stronger back, incongruently it can lead to moderate to severe lower back pain. Rickets, a vitamin D deficiency in children, can cause lumbarlordosis.
When to seek treatment for lordosis:
If the lordotic curve corrects itself when you bend forward (i.e. the curve is flexible), you do not need to seek treatment. However, if you bend over and the lordotic curve remains (i.e. the curve is not flexible), you should seek treatment.
In addition, you should seek treatment if you experience any of the following:
- muscle spasms
- tingling or numbness
- bladder or bowel difficulties
Much of our flexibility, mobility, and activity depend on the health of the spine. Getting treatment to help correct the curvature can help prevent complications later in life, such as arthritis and chronic back pain.
Treatment for lordosis will depend on the severity of the curvature and the presence of other symptoms.
Treatment options include:
- medication to reduce pain and swelling
- physical therapy (to help build strength in the core muscles)
- yoga (to increase body awareness, strength, flexibility, and range of motion)
- weight loss
- braces (in children and teens)
- surgery (in severe cases)
Risk for untreated lordosis:
For most people, lordosis does not cause significant health problems if left untreated. However, since the spine is responsible for much of our movement and flexibility, it is important to maintain a healthy spine. Not treating lordosis could lead to an increased risk of problems with the spine, hip girdle, legs, and internal organs.