Kyphosis and lordosis refer to the types of natural curves that you have in your spine.
Your lumbar spine (lower back) and cervical spine (neck) have a natural “lordosis”, while the middle of your back has a natural “kyphosis”.
Kyphosis is completely normal to have in the middle of your back, but, just like pelvic tilt, EXCESSIVE kyphosis can create problems.
The excessive curve in the upper back, combined with rounded, slumping shoulders, creates not only a significant postural distortion, but also a long list of upper body symptoms,
including, but not limited to:
- Shoulder impingement
- Altered breathing function (which can create a WHOLE of
list of issues itself!)
- Chronic tension in the muscles in the back of your neck
- Thoracic outlet syndrome
This is a just a short list of the major issues that can occur as a result of an excessive kyphotic curve.
Correcting this postural issue can be either a simple task, or one that takes an in-depth analysis of why it is happening, specific corrective exercises and usually neuromuscular therapy techniques for long term
However, there are 2 fundamental exercises that must be introduced to start correcting this postural distortion:
- Standing postural correction:
Since it is a postural issue, which is a “learned behavior”, part of
correcting it must include behavioral intervention. That means that the more
you manually correct your posture, the faster the position will become
ingrained in your nervous system. Here is what you need to do: First,
imagine you have a helium balloon attached to each of your chest muscles, and
they are pulling your chest up toward the sky. This movement will assist with
reversing some of the kyphosis. Next, gently pull your shoulder blades BACK
and DOWN. This encourages lengthening the muscles in the front of your body
that are pulling you down, and strengthening the postural muscles that will
lead toward long term correction.
When doing postural correction, the key is reps. I’ve been known to instruct my patients to get a watch with an alarm on it, and set it to go off every hour on the hour. With an average of 16 corrections per day, this can really accelerate the correction procedure.
The Prone Extension Exercise: This is by far my most favorite postural correction exercise.
Here is how to do it:
- Lay face down on the floor, with your arms at your
sides, palms face down.
- Put your feet together.
- Squeeze your butt muscles together.
- Lift your chest up as high as you can comfortably go.
- Lift up your arms, while simultaneously EXTERNALLY
rotating them (the direction that feels MORE difficult to do is the correct
one!), and squeeze your shoulder blades both together, and downward toward the
middle of your back.
- Look straight in front of you (which means you will be
looking straight to the ground) so that your head is in alignment with the
rest of your body.
The best way to start doing this kyphosis exercise is to hold the position for 10 seconds, then rest for 10 seconds. Repeat up to 10
One of the more daunting tasks in muscle imbalance correction and reducing lower back stress lies in postural correction. I think its fairly obvious why its important, but just to re-cap:
Posture closely inter-twines with back pain. Why? Well, your body is equipped naturally to be able to deal with that ever inescapable force called gravity. I heard recently that it weighs down on our bodies at approximately 33.5 pounds per square inch! Whether or not that is exact, who cares, but the point remains that we are meant to deal with this force by the way our bodies are designed.
The forces of gravity should be distributed nicely throughout specific joints, bones, muscles, etc. When posture is distorted, through repetitive tasks, muscle imbalances, and even psychological issues, such as depression, the weight of gravity starts to exert its straining effects on our bodies in a way that causes increased joint stress, overworked stabilizer muscles, thus leading to chronic overuse, joint degeneration, and of course, pain.
Now, that you get WHY back pain sufferers should have good posture, why don’t you DO it?
The reason why most people don’t work on posture is truly because its a pain in the ass. It requires paying attention to it continuously, and its hard work at first. However, just like any other discipline, the rewards will pay off IMMENSELY.
Here are a few ways to get your posture corrected PROPERLY:
1. Identify the type of pelvic tilt you have (read other sections of this blog about this). Once you know, you will always focus on finding a “neutral” pelvic tilt when standing, unless the specific type of back problem you have prevents you from doing this in a pain-free way. You will most likely need to just slightly bend your knees too, in order to make the pelvic tilt happen easily.
2. Imagine you have 2 balloons attached to the upper part of your chest muscles, and they are lifting them up to the sky. That should immediately improve your forward head posture too! Gently RETRACT your chin, so your neck elongates slightly.
3. Lastly, pull your shoulder blades back toward your spine, and DOWN toward the middle of your back. The reason why you do this is because if you JUST pull your shoulders back, then you will most likely engage your upper trapezius muscles, which elevate the shoulders. The problem with this is that 99% of people are tight and overworked in this muscles, and they are “stress” holders. So, we don’t want to make them any tighter. Pull the shoulder blades BACK and DOWN.