Jun 2014 07

kyphotic-lordotic posture

By: Dave Wheeler

In a previous blog post we looked at the sway-back posture. In this post we look at another of the 4 common postural tendancies - the kyphotic lordotic posture.


The natural curves of the spine

There are 5 sections to the human spine:




though it's a bit easier to understand in this next diagram (where the bottom 2 sections of the spine are fused together as one):




The cervical (neck) and  lumbar (lower back) sections of the spine have a natural curve to them, called kyphotic.

The thoracic spine has a natural curve going in the opposite direction, this is called lordotic.

These "S" curves actually allow the spine to support more weight than if it ran straight. Allegedly, the maths is that the resistance of a curved column is directly proportional to the number of curves plus one. Since there are 3 main curves (cervical, thoracic and lumbar), the human spine can support 10 times more weight than a straight one of the same overall length.

(By the way, this is why it's important to bend from the knees when you go to lift something. If you just bend forward at the waist, you're effectively straightening out the spine, and it simply can't support as much weight as if you maintained it in the neutral position.)

So here's the diagram we've seen before:



This is the neutral posture, with natural lordotic and kyphotic curves of the spine.

But as we know, very few of us actually stand in this neutral position.


Kyphotic-lordotic posture

Whether through habit or birth, one of the common postural tendancies that people adopt is where the curves of the spine become slightly exagerated. This is called kyphotic-lordotic posture. Think of it as sticking you bum and chest out.

It's common to see this posture, for example, in women who wear high heels - it's a way of keeping balance!

The diagram below shows what happens to the muscles if you have a kyphotic-lordotic posture: the muscles shown in red become shortened and tight, whilst the muscles in blue become stretched out taut like a drum (and sometimes weak):


Kyphotic lordotic posture and muscle imbalance ©Dave Wheeler 2014


The big obvious danger point for people with a kyphotic lordotic posture is the lower back.

Look at the increased curve in the lower back (the lumbar spine) - marked in the diagram in red. The muscles here are in a constant state of being tense which means that lower back pain is common in people with a kyphotic-lordotic posture.

Being kept constantly tense means that the muscles in the lumbar region don't have the full range of natural movement. Any over-stretching or sudden lengthening out could therefore cause damage to the muscle fibres of the lower back.


Muscle imbalance and the kyphotic-lordotic posture

Look again at the diagram above.

In red I've marked the muscles that are typically tight (or hypertonic)

  • the back of the neck
  • the lower back 
  • at the front of the shoulder
  • the chest and upper abdominals
  • the hip muscle inside the pelvis
  • the quadriceps​ (muscles at the front of the thigh)
  • the calf muscles

In blue I've marked the muscles that are usually either weak or stretched taut like a drum:

  • the front of the neck
  • the mid-upper back
  • the lower abdominals
  • the hamstrings

Standing for long periods of time will often cause mild back-ache for people with a kyphotic-lordotic posture.


You and your posture

As I mentioned in a previous blog post, posture has a big impact on the forces applied to the body by any movement or force. If you have a kyphotic-lordotic posture then, as the diagram above shows, there will be some muscles that are "over-strong" and some that are "weak". Those over-strong ones will be pulling on your skeleton, dragging it off-kilter; the weak ones won't be supporting your frame enough.

It's important that a remedial massage therapist works with you to help restore as much balance as possible to your muscle tone, to ease the aches and pains. This will mean using sports massage techniques to relieve the tension in tight muscles, but also remedial rehab to help strengthen the weaker muscles to balance you up.

It's all about treating the problem, and not just the symptom.

As ever, if you think I can help, give me a call.