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What are the spinal curves called?

Spine Curves & Scoliosis by Scott Gimby DC

The natural curves of the human spine are a marvel of biomechanical engineering. Our spine, also known as the vertebral column, consists of 33 individual bones called vertebrae. These vertebrae are categorized into five regions: cervical (neck), thoracic (upper back), lumbar (lower back), sacral (pelvic), and coccygeal (tailbone). The natural curves of the spine are essential for maintaining balance, shock absorption and, overall, spinal flexibility.

There are four primary spinal curves that create an "S" shape when viewed from the side. The cervical and lumbar regions curve inward, creating lordotic curves, while the thoracic and sacral regions curve outward, forming kyphotic curves. Here's a detailed description of these curves:

Side image of the spine showing the S shaped curve
Spinal curves

Cervical Curve (Lordotic or backward C-shape): The cervical curve begins at the base of the skull and consists of seven vertebrae. This curve supports the weight of the head, allowing it to balance on top of the spine while maintaining flexibility for neck movement.

Thoracic Curve (Kyphotic or regular C-shape): The thoracic curve encompasses the 12 vertebrae and their accompanying ribs at either side and extend to the upper and mid-back region. This curve helps provide stability and protects the vital organs housed within the chest cavity.

Lumbar Curve (Lordotic or backward C-shape): The lumbar curve consists of five large, sturdy vertebrae in the lower back. This curve helps support the weight of the upper body and allows for bending and twisting movements.

Sacral and Coccygeal Curves (Kyphotic or regular C-shape): The sacral and coccygeal curves are composed of the fused vertebrae in the pelvic and tailbone regions. These curves provide stability to the pelvis and support the body when sitting.

The size of each of these curved regions is important and, as such, bio-mechanical scientists have found what would be their ideal range. An angle reduction (e.g. in military spine) may lead to a lack of shock absorption, whereas an increase (as we see in pregnancy) may lead to a build-up of strain, which can lead to pain.

When looking at the spine directly from the back, we shouldn't naturally see any curve, however if there is, this is known as a scoliosis.

Scoliosis is a spinal deformity characterized by an abnormal lateral (side-to-side) curvature of the spine. This condition can develop during childhood or adolescence, and its cause may be idiopathic (unknown); degenerative (i.e. wear and tear); post-trauma; or linked to factors like genetics, neuromuscular conditions, or congenital anomalies.

Scoliosis (Courtesy of Macrovector on Freepik)

Its impact varies from person to person. Mild cases may not require treatment, while a more severe curvature may lead to pain, discomfort, and potential complications related to organ compression. Early detection and monitoring are crucial, as timely intervention can help manage the condition and prevent its progression.

Treatment options for scoliosis include manual therapy such as Chiropractic, bracing, and, in severe cases, surgical correction with spinal fusion. The goal is to reduce the curve's progression, alleviate pain, and improve the patient's overall quality of life.

If you are at all concerned or feel your spine could be causing discomfort, please get in touch for a free 15-minute assessment by one of our team.


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