Curves of the Spine

Look at anyone from the side, and it will be evident that the spine is curved. Why is the spine curved? Do the curves serve some purpose, or are they simply a cosmetic feature of our anatomy?

Two Types/Directions of Curves

To answer these questions, we first need to look at the curves themselves. When viewed from the side, it is easy to see that the spine curves in two directions, towards the front and towards the back.

The curves where the spine bends towards the front of the body, in the thoracic spine and sacrum, are called kyphotic curves. When the spine bends towards the back of the body, such as in the cervical and lumbar spines, the curve is called lordotic.

Primary Curves

The two kyphotic curves of the thoracic spine and sacrum are known as -primary curves-. They are a direct result of the fetal position that we spend the first nine months of life in. We are born with them, which is why we call them primary.

Secondary Curves

If the two kyphotic curves are primary, then the lordotic curves of the cervical and lumbar spines are -secondary curves-. We develop these curves as a result of the way we use our bodies.

The cervical begins to curve backwards when our neck muscles are strong enough to lift our head to help us look around. If you've ever seen a baby on it's tummy looking, around, you are watching the the cervical curve develop right before your eyes.

Similarly, the lumbar spine begins to curve backwards the first time we stand and take our first few steps. As the pelvis rotates to allow the feet to touch the ground, the lumbar spine arches to accommodate the new movement pattern.

Purpose of the Spinal Curves

The curves of the spine function primarily to aid in shock absorption. They transform the spine from a straight, inflexible rod to a spring that is able to bend and flex in response to the stress caused by the impact of walking, running, and other daily activities.

If the spine were completely straight, all of the stress would go straight through the bones, leading to increased wear and tear on the weight bearing portions of the vertebrae and on the intervertebral discs. 

The curves act to redirect the shock towards the front and back.

The muscles on the front and back of the spine act as struts to absorb shock using their properties of elasticity and contraction. This is one reason it's important to have strong muscles around the spine.

Excess Curvature

In the simple model of the body that we have just developed, we can make a general statement that if the curves of the spine are in excess, more stress will be placed on the muscles in the region to maintain posture and absorb shock. 

Reduced curvature

A reduced curvature in any part of the spine will place more stress on the vertebrae and intervertebral discs, as they will be subjected increased shock.

- By Lovelace Linares

About the Author

My name is Lovelace Linares. I have been practicing massage in Atlanta since 2001. I taught all aspects of massage for nine years, five of which I directed the massage program at the Atlanta School of Massage.

I'm a bit unconventional in my thinking. I believe that self discovery is the purpose of life. Through it, we can all achieve our greatest potentiontial, both individually and as a society.

To that end, i believe that true relaxation comes from two things: (1) Alleviating pain that you are aware of and (2) addressing tension you are not aware of. Self-awareness is the key.

My practice is located inside Urban Body Studios on the scenic Atlanta Beltline. Orthopedics, Deep tissue, Swedish massage, neuromuscular therapy, Thai massage, and stretching are some of the techniques that I use in my practice.

Related Articles

If you enjoyed this article, you may also enjoy: