We depend on a healthy cervical spine for neck movement and proper functioning of the muscles and nerves throughout the body. Within the neck’s structure are seven vertebrae that form the cervical lordosis, or degree of the neck curvature.
This shape allows us normal range of motion of the head and neck, as well as supports the head’s weight. An abnormal shape can lead to pain, discomfort, and possible health complications. We will look at possible reversal of the cervical lordosis condition through injury prevention and cervical lordosis exercises.
What Is Cervical Lordosis?
Cervical lordosis is the natural curve of the spine in the neck, known medically as the cervical spine. Its slightly curved C-shape allows movement of the spine’s first seven vertebrae, which are located in the neck. With an offset curve, problems with the related nerves and muscle tissue can develop and produce physical discomfort or pain.
The inward curve of a healthy cervical spine sits in a position to support the head and protect the tendons, ligaments, muscles, bones, and nerves of this region. Cervical lordosis with an outward curve, sideward curve, or straightened curve needs to be addressed to prevent further complications.
The medical use of the term “cervical lordosis” is often in reference to an unusual inward curve extension of the neck spine. This type of cervical lordosis condition is known as a cervical hyperlordosis. A contraction of the region is cervical hypolordosis.
For the remainder of this article, we will use the cervical lordosis term to refer to the abnormal extension of the curvature.
Cervical Lordosis Causes
The cervical lordosis condition knows no boundaries, as it can occur to anyone of any age. There are instances in which a direct injury to the cervical spine or injury due to persistent muscle spasms may change the degree of the neck curvature. More common causes of cervical lordosis are:
1. Postural Changes
A change in the curvature can happen over time with habitual poor posture when standing, frequent weightlifting activity, or abnormal sitting posture.
2. Congenital Conditions
There may be a slightly visible change in the neck spine at birth. This can be due to development within the womb or to trauma to the neck during birth, whether by natural delivery or caesarean section.
3. Musculoskeletal Conditions
Medical conditions affecting the spine can cause a curvature change. This may be seen with scoliosis, kyphosis (forward rounding of the back), and spondylolisthesis (sliding lower vertebrae). In osteoporosis, the bones of the spine can become weak over time and shift, while the conditions of discitis or disc herniation can alter the spinal discs.
Symptoms of Cervical Lordosis
Cervical lordosis symptoms are unique to the conditioning of the spine and vary from person to person. While many cases present little-to-no visible or physiological signs, there are abnormal curvatures that may cause discomfort or pain with the observed curving of the neck.
A visible change in the neck alignment from the posterior view may also be the only sign, if the curvature is not causing any compression on the nerves or tissue. Noted as a “swayed back” neck, this positioning of the neck is an arch of the spine.
There may or may not be an ache when turning the head, or a decrease in the range of motion. It is observed when the person is lying down and the space between the neck and the surface of the bed or table is greater than normal. This explains why many cases go undocumented unless seen during a medical examination.
Abnormal cervical lordosis cases with a loss of movement or restricted movement of the neck may see the muscles of the neck, shoulders, and back become tightened or tensed. These muscles can often have spasms, causing the lack in range of motion. A localized nerve can become compressed by the spasm or the curvature itself and cause extreme pain.
In some cervical lordosis cases where pain is present, there may be a link to extreme curvature of the neck spine, or it can be regarded as a result of a “nocebo” situation. This sometimes occurs when a person is told that the diagnostic or medical procedure may cause severe negative symptoms and then begins to exhibit the physical signs of the symptoms, all due to their mindset.
The nocebo effect is a physiological extension of the more familiar placebo effect, in which one is given a sugar pill in replacement of a prescribed drug and believes the sugar pill is treating the ailment.
Cervical Lordosis Treatment and Diagnosis
With the varying degrees of cervical lordosis curvature, a physical examination and noted medical history of the patient may be insufficient for a proper diagnosis. Further testing with X-rays and diagnostic scanning may be required. Several tests over a period of time may show changes to the spine and reveal the particular cause, as with degenerating discs.
Once a cervical lordosis diagnosis is confirmed, any treatment depends on the extent of the curvature and whether any pain is associated with it. Postural physical therapy is often used to alleviate any pressure on the nerves and prevent further curvature. Any muscle spasms or associated pain can be addressed with medication, compresses, targeted exercises, or use of a supporting device such as a neck brace.
Rare treatment of extreme curving of the neck spine may involve surgical procedures such as spinal fusion. Bone from the pelvic region may be placed between collapsing vertebrae to encourage bone growth, or metal plates may be used until bones fuse together naturally.
Reversal of Cervical Lordosis and Its Importance
The importance of proper treatment of cervical lordosis is evident when considering the complications and health conditions that may arise from the condition. In addition to correcting poor posture positions, treating the curvature can prevent spinal injuries from occurring.
Vertebrae are designed to protect the spine as shock absorbers, and any deterioration or change in positioning due to the cervical curving may cause injury to the spinal column. This is seen with joint disease and degenerative disc disease.
Another risk of cervical lordosis relates to a disruption of the essential nutrient and oxygen supplies to the brain. Hypertension, confusion, lethargy, pain, dizziness, nausea, and possible insomnia can arise.
Attention to and precautions to avoid any abnormal curvature can help to prevent conditions which worsen the alignment of the spine, such as osteoporosis or the permanent use of a back or neck brace. We will next learn of exercises to do at home.
Exercises for Cervical Lordosis
Loss of cervical lordosis exercises and strengthening of the region may help patients regain any total loss of movement or decrease in range of motion. Regular exercise and following a proper healthy diet can also prevent weight strain issues with the cervical spine. It is important to consult with a physician before attempting any of the following exercises.
1. Neck Flexion
Stretch the back of the neck muscles to tone and strengthen. In a standing or sitting position, gently move the head up and down in a nodding motion. This should be done very slowly for a set of five repetitions, with a hold of the chin downward for three seconds. This exercise can also be done ying down with a pillow behind the head. Move chin toward the chest to feel a slight stretch within the neck.
2. Neck Extension
Prevent injury to the facet joint of the neck with this stretching exercise. Stand with shoulders back and head and neck in a straight line. Avoid arching the back as the head is stretched backward and the eyes are looking at the ceiling. Hold position for five seconds and slowly return the head to starting position. Repeat 10 times.
3. Neck Retraction
Practice proper positioning of head with this retraction stretch. In a standing position, move head backward with the chin slightly down. Hold for three seconds before returning the head to starting position. Repeat 10 times.
4. Neck Side Tilt
Gently stretch the neck muscles with this tilt exercise that can be done in a standing or sitting position. Tilt the head to one side in a slow and gentle movement. Hold for five seconds and return the head to starting position. Maintain forward eye contact without the bending neck forward during the exercise. Repeat on other side. Do this 10 times on each side.
5. Neck Rotation
In a sitting or standing position, slowly turn the head to one side, maintaining a straight back and neck. Hold for two seconds before repeating on other side. Repeat 10 times on each side.
6. Backward Shoulder Retraction
In a sitting or standing position, place hands along the hips as one arm and shoulder is moved backward. As the arm is flexed and the shoulder is back, hold this position for three seconds before returning to starting position. Repeat 10 times.
7. Forward Shoulder Retraction
This stretch can be done in a sitting or standing position. Move one hand to the opposite shoulder and hold position for three seconds. The arm should be flexed at the elbow and the back should be kept straight. Return to starting position and repeat 10 times.
8. Shoulder Shrugs
Stand or sit with arms at sides and hands straight with fingers pointing down. Raise both shoulders up while keeping the head and neck still. Hold in upward position for three seconds before returning to starting position and repeating 10 times.
Cervical lordosis is the natural curve of the first seven vertebrae of the neck spine. Normal curvature is in the shape of the letter “C” with a slight curve. The cervical lordosis condition is often described as an abnormal curvature and from this, we have learned of natural and external causes and possible symptoms.
Severe cases are treated with physical therapy or even surgery in extreme cases. A natural repositioning of the cervical spine may be accomplished with stretching exercises to prevent further injury or complications to the neck spine and spinal column.
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Govender, S., “Is the Nocebo Effect Hurting Your Health?” Web MD; http://www.webmd.com/balance/features/is-the-nocebo-effect-hurting-your-health#1, last accessed July 24, 2017.
McCahon, J., “Exercises to Do at Home For Cervical Lordosis,” Livestrong, August 16, 2013; http://www.livestrong.com/article/168698-exercises-to-do-at-home-for-cervical-lordosis/, last accessed July 24, 2017.