Protect your neck. We’ve heard that phrase refer to how essential – and indispensable – your neck is to your overall health. Your neck is the bridge connecting your brain to your body; good health depends upon the signals from your brain getting through to your organs. And it starts with ensuring you have a healthy cervical lordosis, which is the natural curve in your neck vertebrae.
Your cervical spine is made up of the first seven vertebrae in your spine that span the base of your skull to your thoracic spine (the area between your neck and abdomen). A healthy cervical spine is shaped like a wide-looking “C” with its curve facing toward the front . This normal curve in the neck helps to withstand the weight of your head and also provides comfortable range of motion in the neck.
What’s not normal (and when you start running into problems and pain) is a flattened neck that has lost its natural curvature, also called a “military neck.” The curve can straighten out (a condition called hypolordotic/alordotic) or even face in the wrong direction (which is known as a reverse curve or kyphotic).
Loss of the healthy curve in your neck can be due to a combination of factors. Sometimes, it’s not one event in particular, but a combination of accidents or injuries and repetitive, prolonged actions, such as constantly looking down at a phone or computer. This repetitive posture puts strain on the body over time and can lead to issues with cervical lordosis. The risk is higher if there is pre-existing damage to the ligaments and discs caused by a fall, car crash, birth trauma, or other incidences
It all starts at the top. Changes in the spine can have a domino effect down the rest of the body.
The slight forward arch of a healthy cervical spine is what helps stabilize and bear the weight of the head and spine. So any time there’s a loss of the cervical lordosis (and the longer it persists), the condition can lead to pain and increase degeneration of the spinal discs.
People who have a loss of cervical lordosis are more vulnerable to injury, and more likely to suffer permanent damage or disability if they get into a car crash. Losing the good curve in your neck also makes you more likely to have a disc herniation in your lower back.
The tricky part of loss of cervical curve is how it presents itself. While losing the good curve in the neck increases the likelihood of neck pain, headaches, and other problems, not every person with a loss of curve in their neck and forward head posture will have these symptoms, and some patients don’t experience any symptoms at all. But while pain may not be experienced, some individuals could start noticing that they’re limited in some physical activities.
If your symptoms are being caused by poor posture, the use of drugs and chemicals will not help, because it is a mechanical problem. Muscle relaxants and aspirin might relieve the pain caused by poor posture, but they won’t cure it. Fatigue, muscle tension, headaches, vertigo, and other symptoms could be due to abnormal variations in the cervical lordosis. Taking drugs may mask the symptoms, but only restoring the body’s natural posture will lift the strain on the nerves, muscles, and discs.
Keep in mind that pain starting in your neck can migrate its way down your body. An abnormal cervical curve can place a lot of stress on the muscles below your neck and manifest itself into back pain. Your spine and entire body are then more likely to be injured.
Even if you don’t have any active symptoms, ignoring or not addressing an abnormal cervical curve could make you more susceptible to injury in an accident, slip or fall. Something that wouldn’t bother a person with a strong spine could lead to long-term damage in a person with poor posture.
Despite the growing body of scientific evidence attesting to the importance of cervical lordosis, there’s some disagreement in medical and chiropractic circles about the general importance of the neck. Some doctors won’t even measure the curve in your neck. Find a professional who recognizes the importance of intervening in loss of your natural curve and will map out a plan to strengthen muscle and help you improve your range of motion and flexibility.
Most forms of physical therapy and chiropractic treatment will not be effective in restoring the cervical lordosis. In fact, one study¹ found that twisting or popping the neck with the hands could actually worsen the curve in the neck. Specialized precision adjustments, therapies, and exercises must be done together in order to relax the correct muscles, reposition the bones, and re-train the subconscious, automatic parts of the brain responsible for balance, posture, and coordination. It’s important that the doctor takes an x-ray to measure the curve in your neck before treatment, and then takes another x-ray (with the head in the exact same position) afterwards, to prove that the treatment was effective.
There are several chiropractic ways to treat curve correction. A reactive approach includes spinal weights to induce a reaction and spur neurological retraining. Another approach is soft tissue remodeling, which focuses on relaxing, restoring and rehabilitating the ligaments in the neck. Treatments, like the CLEAR approach, can combine both methods to provide effective cervical lordotic restoration.
Your cervical curve is crucial to your overall spinal health. Treatments that recognize the importance of curve correction can help mitigate the pain and discomfort you may be experiencing if you’ve lost your natural cervical lordosis.
Have you experienced a loss of cervical lordosis? Do you have any questions about treatment options or thoughts on what treatments worked for you? We’d love to hear from you in the comments below.
¹Troyanovich SJ, Harrison DD, Harrison DE. A review of the validity, reliability and clinical effectiveness of chiropractic methods employed to restore or rehabilitate cervical lordosis. Chiropractic Technique 1998;10:1-7.