Abnormal Curvature of the Spine

In rare cases, the cause of a person's back pain may be an abnormal curvature of the spine. When people do have a healthy curvature of the spine, the spinal bones and other spinal structures are all in their correct placement in regards to one another. The elements of the spine have two main responsibilities: movement and to protect the spinal nerves. When certain elements of the spine are thrown out of their correct position, movement of the spine may become more difficult or uncomfortable. The spinal nerves themselves may also become affected, and we may experience back pain, leg pain, and nerve pain as certain degenerated elements of the spine become pushed into the affected nerves. If the curvature of the spine becomes abnormal, and of the structures could be affected, affecting our ability to move without discomfort and to avoid back pain. In this piece of writing, we will explore what constitutes a proper spinal alignment, how to classify abnormal spinal curvatures, and how to correct these types of problems. Normal Curvature of the Spine: In a normal spinal curvature, the spine together takes the shape of a straight line from its top to its bottom. This means that if you were to view the spine looking directly in front of or behind it, it would appear to be perfectly straight. If you were to look at the spine from a side view, however, the spine would appear to have several curves in it. From the top of the spine, where there it is in contact with the occipital bone of the skull, the spine curves backwards towards the surface of your back. This curvature is known as the cervical curve. The cervical curve is made up of the seven cervical vertebrae and other supportive structures of the cervical section of the spine. The normal curvature of the spine is between 20 to 40 degrees.

Below the seventh cervical vertebra (C7), the top of the thoracic vertebra begins, At this point, the thoracic spine curves forwards from the first to seventh cervical vertebrae. This section of the spine is known as the thoracic spine. The normal angle of the thoracic curvature is 20 to 40 degrees.

Beginning below the 12th thoracic vertebra, the lumbar spine begins. The spine curves forwards again from the 1st to 5th lumbar vertebra. The normal angle of curvature of the lumbar curve is between 40 to 50 degrees.

The fused elements of the sacrum and fused elements of the coccyx (tailbone) are situated just below the last lumbar vertebra. The sacrum is connected to and separated from the bottom lumbar vertebra (L5) by the L5-S1 intervertebral disc. The sacrum and coccyx together curve backwards again.

The Cervical and Lumbar curves both angle towards the front of the body vertically. Any angle of curvature beyond their normal rage may be classified as Lordosis.

The Thoracic and Sacral/Coccygeal curves both curve towards the back of the body from the top to the bottom of these sections. And angle of curvature beyond their healthy range may be referred to as the condition of Kyphosis.

Thus far, we have discussed the conditions of Lordosis and Kyphosis, where the curve of the spine is normal but turns at an exaggerated angle. Now we will discuss the condition of Scoliosis, where the spine curves abnormally at a lateral angle.

Scoliosis is an abnormal curvature of the spine, where it takes on a sideways curvature in one or more sections. This lateral curvature may present early in childhood development, or in late adulthood when certain degenerative changes take place. This lateral curvature is easy to see on the medical imaging modality of X-rays when front to back and back to front pictures are taken of the spine. There are several different types of scoliosis, and they are classified according to when the condition presents as well as what caused each prospective condition. The different types of scoliosis include:
  • Idiopathic Scoliosis: with idiopathic scoliosis, the lateral curvature is discovered, but not its cause. There are so many millions of thing that happen to our bodies, for the better and for the worse, that it is often difficult to pinpoint one single event that can lead doctors to make a specific determination as to what caused the patient's condition.
  • Congenital Scoliosis: Congenital scoliosis is discovered when the infant is born or shortly afterwards. Congenital scoliosis is usually the cause of a genetic disorder.
  • Neuromuscular scoliosis: Neuromuscular scoliosis is scoliosis that often results in severe disability, due to neuromuscular conditions such as cerebral palsy or muscular dystrophy.
  • Degenerative scoliosis: Degenerative scoliosis will present for the first time in late adulthood as changes take place to soft tissue structures such as the facet joints, intervertebral discs, and ligaments of the spine.