Updated: Mar 25
Stretching all the way from the base of your skull to your “tailbone,” your spine plays a critical role in your health, supporting your skeleton and keeping you mobile. Your spine also acts as a conduit for all your nerves as they travel from your brain to every other part of your body.
In order to support your body adequately, your spine has a few curves “built in”: one in your lower back, one near your chest, and another near your neck. These curves help distribute your body weight and enable you to perform lots of movements and activities.
Sometimes, though, your spine can develop curves in other areas, or the existing curves become a lot more pronounced. This type of curvature isn’t normal — and in fact, it can cause a lot of pain and health problems.
As a leading orthopaedic spine specialist in Woodbury, New Jersey, Evan O’Brien, MD, can diagnose the cause of spinal curvature in patients at Woodbury Spine, helping each patient get the most appropriate care for their health needs.
Types and causes of spinal curvature
Spinal curvature problems can happen in different areas of your spine and cause it to curve in different ways.
The three main types of spinal curvature include:
Scoliosis, where the spine curves sideways
Kyphosis (“roundback”), which causes a rounded upper back
Lordosis (“swayback”), involving an exaggerated curve in your lower back
Scoliosis is one of the most common types of curvature, affecting 6-9 million Americans. Usually, this type of curvature happens during adolescence, while your spine is growing and developing.
When scoliosis is diagnosed in adults, it’s usually because the condition went undiagnosed (or untreated) during childhood or a degenerative spine disease alters the shape of your spine.
All three types of curvature can cause back or neck pain along with nerve compression and pain in your arms or legs. Sometimes, spinal curvature can interfere with breathing, walking, or performing other activities, or it can interfere with your heart, lungs, or other organs.
Often, the cause of spinal curvature is idiopathic, which means doctors don’t know why it happens.
But sometimes, curvature is caused by known factors, like:
Spondylolisthesis, where one vertebra slips forward over another
Osteoporosis and compression fractures
Disc problems, including inflammation
Traumatic injury to your back
Tumors in or near your spine
Congenital problems or birth defects
Even lifestyle issues, like very poor posture or obesity, can cause or contribute to spinal curvature and its symptoms.
Treating spinal curvature
Many patients with spinal curvature can be managed conservatively, using options like:
Medicine to relieve pain and inflammation
Injections of pain relievers
When these options don’t work to relieve your symptoms, Dr. O’Brien might recommend surgery. The type of surgery depends on the extent, location, and cause of your curvature.
Most commonly, surgery:
Removes one or more discs
Removes a small part of spinal bones
Fuses two or more vertebrae
Spinal surgery is also recommended when the curve is severe or when curvature affects your heart or lungs.
Find out what’s causing your back pain
Chronic back pain is a common symptom of spinal curvature, but other problems can cause back pain, too. The best way to find relief for your symptoms is to seek medical treatment developed specifically for your underlying problem.
If you have back pain, don’t delay treatment. Book an appointment online or over the phone with our team at Woodbury Spine today.