The normal cervical lordosis is the natural curve of the neck when viewed from the side, the convexity is on the front and the concavity is on the back.
This curve starts to form as early as 10 months of development and is cemented during adolescence and infancy. Holding a child’s head in extension is quite important for infants as it encourages the normal curvature of the neck. Loss of lordosis can begin in early childhood, however, whiplash from automobile accidents, stress, injuries from falls and sports injuries can cause this issue in adulthood. Unfortunately, many of our “normal” daily tasks may also decrease the cervical lordosis, like viewing low lying computer screens (below eye level), sleeping with two pillows, as well as sitting in a recliner.
Many studies are demonstrating a clear causal connection between loss of lordosis and neck complaints, including neck stiffness and pain, headaches, premature degeneration, disc herniation, and numbness/tingling or weakness in the arms. A study from 1974 showed that a sharp reversal of the curve would lead to degenerative changes in 60 percent of patients. Literally, a reversed curve causes arthritis in the neck. A study from 2005 in the Journal of Manipulative and Physiologic Therapeutics found:
“The odds that a patient with cervical pain had a lordosis of 0 degrees or less was 18 times greater than for a patient having a non-cervical complaint. Patients with cervical pain had less lordosis and this was consistent over all age ranges” The authors of this study went so far as to recommend “Maintenance of a lordosis could be a clinical goal for chiropractic treatment”
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Effects of Loss of Cervical Lordosis
But why neck pain? What does loss of the curve do to cause pain? Tingling? Numbness? Headaches? It’s actually very simple. Where they would not bear weight weight bearing stress is placed by A lack of lordosis onto joints at the neck. This causes muscle spasm, stiffness, and inflammation to stabilize the region. Muscles in the upper part of the neck then irritate nerves that travel up and over your head into the scalp. Supporting ligaments in the back of the neck stretch and those in front contract, working to further stabilize the neck in this unnatural posture, as time progresses. Weight is born mainly on the lower segments of the neck (C5-7), which then typically degenerate first. Arthritic spurring progresses in these dysfunctional segments, which could then impinge the exiting nerve roots and cause symptoms in the arms and hands like tingling, numbness, electrical shocks, and fatigue.
As the curve becomes kyphotic, other neurologic complaints can attest. The spinal cord is tethered at the top by its attachment to the brain, and in the bottom by the lumbar nerve roots and meningeal attachment to your tailbone. The spinal cord is tractioned and forced against the back of the bodies of the vertebrae in the neck when the ordinary throat curve is reversed. This can cause sensory difficulties anywhere in the body as the pathways for sensation are located in the rear of the cord, and thus are affected by traction. The motor pathways are in the front of the cord and are compressed rather than stretched. Compression of a nerve is never a good thing, particularly when it’s the cord.
What many folks do not know is that most nerve fibers are insulated by a fatty layer called “myelin.” This layer works to allow the signal the nerve creates to travel at faster speeds than it could. Compression of a nerve may result in the death of those cells which maintain this layer; causing the signal the nerve carries to be permanently slower and thus not produce its intended effect. An animal study from 2005 hunted to replicate demyelination (a common diagnostic criteria for Multiple Sclerosis) via cervical kyphosis in Japanese small game fowls. That study’s results were startling. The authors concluded:
“Progressive kyphosis of the cervical spine resulted in demyelination of nerve fibers in the funiculi and neuronal loss in the anterior horn due to chronic compression of the spinal cord. These histologic changes seem to be associated with both continuous mechanical compression and vascular changes in the spinal cord.”
Treatment for Loss of Cervical Lordosis
In short, the reversed curve caused changes in the spinal cord indicative of progressive neurologic conditions. The cervical kyphosis was obtained using methods, but like any symptom of a cause, there are levels of dysfunction. The mechanical methods would hold true, although the methods used in this trial prevent duplication in humans as a result of obvious implications. It’s a fascinating area of research and one I hope continues to grow. To reiterate, the researchers showed that a cervical kyphosis (loss of cervical curve) causes changes in the spinal cord that lead to progressive neurologic degeneration. As Chiropractors, we’ve argued this for generations.
Chiropractic focuses on alignment of the spine so that the nervous system can function optimally. Research is showing a lack of adequate cervical lordosis is a element in a broad variety of conditions, some of which are severe.
If you are experiencing any of these symptoms–headache, stiff neck, neck pain, numbness, tingling, or weakness of your hands, or you’d like to get yourself or your family checked, make sure to seek help from a qualified and experienced healthcare professional to fix the cause.
The scope of our information is limited to chiropractic and spinal injuries and conditions. To discuss options on the subject matter, please feel free to ask Dr. Jimenez or contact us at 915-850-0900 .
By Dr. Alex Jimenez
Additional Topics: Automobile Accident Injuries
Whiplash, among other automobile accident injuries, are frequently reported by victims of an auto collision, regardless of the severity and grade of the accident. The sheer force of an impact can cause damage or injury to the cervical spine, as well as to the rest of the spine. Whiplash is generally the result of an abrupt, back-and-forth jolt of the head and neck in any direction. Fortunately, a variety of treatments are available to treat automobile accident injuries.
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Dr. Alex Jimenez DC, MSACP, RN* CIFM*, IFMCP*, ATN*, CCST
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