Spine curvature disorders

Spine Curvature Disorders

The spine is made up of numerous bones one on top of each other that allow us to bend and twist.

These bones provide a protective cover for the spinal cord, a mix of white and gray matter that contains 31 pairs of spinal nerves. The spine is a central conduit for all the nerve impulses that allow us to function as normal healthy human beings.

The spine is a straight structure when viewed from the back. From the side it appears to curve gently and is designed to both cope with gravity and absorb any shocks.

As with many other parts of the human body, however, there are occasions where deformities in the spine occur.

Here we take a closer look at spinal abnormalities, what causes them and how they are treated.

What are the Main Types of Spine Curvature Disorders?

Spinal abnormalities
Normal spine compared with the main types of spinal deformities

When abnormalities of the spine occur, it can mean the body is misaligned or a certain posture is exaggerated. The three main types of spine curvature disorder are:

  • Kyphosis: Here the upper back is rounded but abnormally so, usually more than 50 degrees compared to a normal spinal orientation.
  • Scoliosis: The curve in the spine is sideways, normally in a c- or s-shape.
  • Lordosis: The is a significant curve of the spine in the lower back area with the buttocks seeming more pronounced.


Kyphosis is characterized by a significant curve in the upper back with the head and shoulders pushed forward considerably. Whilst it doesn’t cause any significant back pain, the stress it puts on areas such as the back of the legs means that standing or sitting for long periods can cause fatigue.

There are a number of causes of kyphosis. It is seen in congenital conditions and is often a symptom of spina bifida. It can also be caused by poor posture, illness that affects the spine such as an infection or tumor, and rarer conditions such as Scheuermann’s disease.

Treatment will vary in accordance with the underlying cause. This may include pain medication as well as physiotherapy to improve muscle strength. An individual with kyphosis might wear a back brace and, in some circumstances, particularly congenital kyphosis, surgery could be required to straighten the spine.


Scoliosis x-ray image
Specialist examining scoliosis in a model of a spine and x-ray image

Scoliosis is often characterized by one shoulder being higher than the other.

The cause of scoliosis in many cases is not known but it can occur with conditions such as cerebral palsy or muscular dystrophy. It can also happen because of birth defects and through injury. Symptoms often become more obvious during adolescence when the growth spurt begins.

In many cases of scoliosis, the abnormality of the spine is not significant enough to warrant any major intervention. There may be some monitoring to make sure the condition doesn’t get worse. Certain exercises may be suggested to help improve posture.

In more severe cases of scoliosis, a back brace or even remedial surgery may be employed. For children, body casting may be used to ensure that the scoliosis doesn’t worsen.


With lordosis, there is an excessive inner curvature of the spine close to the lower back. This has the effect of pushing out the buttocks and making them seem more prominent. If a the individual with lordosis lies down, there will be a sizeable gap between the lower back and the floor. The condition can lead to back pain and discomfort.

Lordosis can be caused by a variety of different health issues:

  • It might happen as a result of kyphosis.
  • It can be a symptom associated with osteoporosis and obesity.
  • It can be part of rare condition such as achondroplasia and spondylolisthesis.

Treatment will depend on the severity of the condition. Exercises to strengthen the muscles and improve posture are usually implemented first. Pain killers may be used to control any back pain. In more severe circumstances a back brace may be worn. Surgery is normally a last resort.

Flat Back Syndrome

Flat back syndrome refers to a condition whereby the lower spine has lost some of its normal curvature. It makes the back less flexible and the individual may find it difficult to stand upright properly. Chronic pain is not unusual.

This condition is caused by health problems such as degenerative disc disease. It’s also seen in some cases of ankylosing spondylitis as well as injuries such as compression fractures.

Most people are treated using physical therapy and by improving posture with some pain medication. In more severe cases, surgery such as a spinal osteotomy can be used which involves removing a bone from the spinal column.