I think that most of us go through our days without paying much attention to how much curve we have in our low backs. For sure, this is not something that is a real attention-grabber. Even if we suffer from some stiffness or dull pain in that area, we don’t tend to focus on what is going on with that curve.
To top it off, over the years there has been some confusing information given out that can leave us wondering. Are we supposed to flatten our backs, and if so, how much, and why? And, how are you supposed to figure out how much curve you are supposed to have?
As technology evolves and it is possible to measure more things going on with the body, there are some better answers to these questions. The answers can help you keep a healthy spine, which translates to fewer aches and pains, fewer injuries, more ease of movement, and general all around well-being.
The Curves in Your Back
When it comes to the spine, there are supposed to be three major curves:
- One in your low back (lumbar area) that looks like it goes forward
- One in your torso (thoracic area) that curves backwards, and
- One in your neck (cervical area) that again curves forward.
These curves are there to allow your spine to withstand compression and torque. Rather than aiming for a flat back, it is now known that keeping the curves “normal” as you sit, move, and exercise is key for maintaining a healthy back.
When the curve in your low back becomes chronically excessive (called an anterior pelvic tilt, or lordosis), it can lead to trouble going up and down your body from there. I use this as today’s blog example because it is somewhat more common than the other way, a flat curve (posterior pelvic tilt).
An anterior pelvic tilt can easily happen when a person sits a lot, has an excess of body fat in the abdominal area, or has poor posture habits that stem from weak abdominal and butt muscles.
What does this all translate to?
First of all, your low back will be chronically tight as it tries to hold this position. Your hips will tend to rotate internally, causing the outside of your leg to get tight. Knee pain can be the result. Further up the chain, your spine will curve out more in the thoracic area to compensate, which can cause neck pain and headaches. This is just the beginning, but you get the idea.
Having a look at what is going on with the curve in your low back can be a key to alleviating all sorts of aches and pains.
So, how can you tell if yours is curving too much? This can be difficult. The natural, optimal curve is a little different for everybody. Finding your neutral is a matter of feeling it, and many people have never explored this or know how to move the pelvis to get there.
So, here’s a few ways to figure this out.
- Stand with your back against a wall. Take one hand and slide it behind your low back at the level of the most curvature. If there is a lot of space to work with there, it probably means your curve is a bit much. Now, stand tall, draw in your abdominal muscles, and tighten your butt. Doing this should bring that curve closer to the wall. This will give you some feeling of how that area can move. It may even bring you a feeling of relief or letting go in that area if it has been chronically tight.
- Next, lie on your back, feet on the floor, knees bent. Slide your hand beneath your low back and explore how much space you have. There should be just enough to be able to get your hand between the floor and your back. Whether there is or not, you can begin to explore some movement there by tilting your pelvis forward and back.
- If this move is hard for you to “get”, try a slightly different move, still on your back. First push very lightly through your heels. Round your spine by starting from the bottom, working one vertebra at a time, and curling from the base of your spine on up. Stop at the top of your low back area. Visualize that you are creating space between each vertebra as you do this. Release slowly back the other way. You will probably notice and feel that your curve has gotten flatter, and your low back has released some tension.
You can use all of these suggestions to help you create awareness of the curve in your lower back. Eventually, you will be able to sense where your neutral is because of the ease you feel in that position. Adding one or more of these moves into your routine three times a week or more (repeating each one 10 times) can be a good way to start to change an excessive curve if you have one, or it can help you maintain great posture and alignment if your curve is already on track.
P.S. If you have any back pain that is sharp or debilitating in any way, you should check with a physician or physical therapist before using these exercises. These suggestions can help tight muscles in that area, but may not be appropriate to alleviate other more complicated back issues.
Do you have challenges in this area?
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