Curves Matter: Does Your Spine Pass the Test?

two women walking with good spinal postureCurves are what make our bodies unique. Some people have lots of curves. Others try to change their curves. And some don’t think twice about it. In chiropractic, one of the key things we look at is how your spine curves. It’s more than just posture. These curves matter. Spinal curves serve a purpose. They impact your balance, flexibility, stress absorption, distribution, and even your overall health. Want to know more how spinal curves can be affecting your health? Read on as we dive into how your spine changes throughout life and how the presence and quality of these curves impact how your body feels and functions.

All spines start with a C curve

When babies are born, their spine is one large curve. We call this curve “kyphotic.” The shape of it looks like the letter “C” but slightly flattened and elongated. This makes sense if you think about how babies love to curl up in the fetal position. As babies develop the ability to stand and walk, the shape of the spine changes and develops from one single curve to four curves. This includes the cervical curve, the thoracic curve, the lumbar curve and the pelvic curve. The presence and quality of these four curves are where we can get a better picture of your overall health. 

spinal curves and function

Reduced or flattened spinal curves impact more than just looks

Recent research shows that spinal curves (particularly the cervical curve) are important to certain physiological functions. This is especially true when the curve is reduced or completely lost. In fact, a 2016 study published in the Medical Science Monitor Journal found that there is a “significant association” between the loss of the proper cervical lordosis and reduced blood flow to the brain. The reason behind this? The location of the vertebral arteries.

Vertebral arteries are the main arteries that run up each side of your neck. They are responsible for delivering blood from your heart to your brain. However, before these arteries pass into your skull, they cross through the first six vertebrae of your neck. 

In a normal neck or one that has an adequate cervical curve, these arteries flow freely with nothing to hinder them from doing their job of sending blood to your brain. In a neck that has lost its normal curve or has become straightened, these arteries start to undergo some abnormal stresses which can result in the following:

  • Reduced diameter of the vertebral arteries 
  • Decreased blood flow volume 
  • Decreased blood velocity 

This is alarming because insufficient blood flow to the brain sets the stage for developing a major ischemic stroke, which occurs when a blood clot blocks or narrows an artery leading to the brain. This is the most common type of stroke.

Additional health problems caused by reduced cervical curves 

  • Sleep apnea
  • Breathing difficulties
  • Headaches
  • Neck Pain
  • Poor focus & cognitive performance
  • Loss of balance and coordination

 Proper spinal curves impact blood flow to the spinal cord

Another reason spinal curves are important is because they can impact blood flow to the spinal cord. Numerous studies support this, but several stand out. Biomechanics of the Nervous System by Dr. Alf Breig is one as well as journal articles, “A Review of Biomechanics of the Central Nervous System – Part I: Spinal Canal Deformations Resulting from Changes in Posture” and “Dentate Ligament – Cord Distortion Hypothesis”.

When we begin to lose normal curvatures, the spinal canal (or the area where the spinal cord rests within the vertebrae) actually increases in overall length. For example, lordosis has a shorter canal distance than a straightened or reversed cervical spine. When the canal is lengthened, it creates physical stresses on the delicate spinal cord tissues. Essentially, the spinal cord is being pulled or stretched in proportion to the increased length of the canal itself. 

Spinal curves - normal, lordosis, kyphosis, flat back

The spinal cord is anchored in a protective covering (dura mater) via small ligaments called the dentate ligaments. It is believed that these small ligaments help suspend the cord in the spinal canal and protect it from being stretched as we move our head and neck normally through life. When normal curvature is lost, the dentate ligaments are stressed due to the lengthening of the spinal canal which transmits prolonged periods of physical stress to the spinal cord itself. 

Once this occurs, a number of health issues can arise such as: 

  • A prolonged increase in spinal cord pressure which causes pain.
  • Ischemic changes (or decreased blood flow) to the areas of greatest tension. This can restrict blood flow to your spinal cord/crucial nervous system tissues. 
  • Physical distortion within the areas of the brainstem that controls cardiac and breathing functions.

Ultimately, your spine is your body’s most important curve

So what’s the takeaway? The structure of your spine has a direct impact on the health of your nervous system.  Because the nervous system controls and coordinates all the functions of the human body, maintaining the normal healthy curves in our spine should be a top priority in our healthcare. 

In January 2020, a study was published titled “Is forward head posture relevant to autonomic nervous system function and sensorimotor control?” What they found was that people who have lost their normal cervical spine curvature have decreased balance and coordination (or sensorimotor control) as well as autonomic nervous system function when compared to those people who have a normal cervical spinal curve!  Considering the autonomic nervous system controls and regulates all the vital functions of our body and plays a critically important role in our overall health, making sure your spinal curve passes the test in all four sections is a must.  

Protect your curves with regular chiropractic visits 

Want to check how well your spinal curves are shaping up? Set up an appointment with a local AlignLife Chiropractor and we’ll talk about how we can help improve and/or maintain the state of your four spinal curves. By correcting spinal misalignments that create these improper curves, we can help prevent them from ever occurring or help correct them once they have formed. Correcting these curves can also help reduce common health issues such as headaches, sleep apnea, breathing difficulties, neck pain, dizziness, and many other common health conditions. 

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Resources

Decreased Vertebral Artery Hemodynamics in Patients with Loss of Cervical Lordosis. Medical Science Monitor Journal. Mehmet Deniz Bulut, Mahmut Alpayci, Emre Şenköy, Aydin Bora, Levent Yazmalar, Alpaslan Yavuz, İsmail Gülşen. 2016.

Biomechanics of the Nervous System. Dr. Alf Breig. 1960.

A Review of Biomechanics of the Central Nervous System - Part I: Spinal Canal Deformations Resulting from Changes in Posture.” D. E. Harrison, R. Cailliet, D. D. Harrison, S. J. Troyanovich, S. O. Harrison. 1999.

Dentate Ligament Cord Distortion Hypothesis.” John D. Grostic. Chiropractic Research Journal. 1988. 
"Is forward head posture relevant to autonomic nervous system function and sensorimotor control? A Cross Sectional Study." Ibrahim M Moustafa, Ahmed Youssef, Amal Ahbouch, May Tamim, Deed E Harrison. Gait Posture. 2020

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