Back pain hurts, and most people care less about specific causes than they do about making the agony end. And while such an approach may be understandable, it’s ultimately short sighted. So many different kinds of spinal disorders may result in back pain, and until you understand the cause of the discomfort, you can’t effectively address it. While back problems can often become chronic and require serious medical or surgical treatment, you can treat some issues yourself relatively easily and effectively. One condition that generally doesn’t need serious intervention is an arched back (aka hyperlordosis).
In this article, we will discuss what can lead to an arched back posture, various arched back exercises and flexibility exercises that may help your condition, and when you ought to seek the help of a specialist.
What Is an Arched Back (Hyperlordosis)?
If examining a normal spine from a side view, you would see three main curves, namely one in the neck (toward the skull), one in the upper and middle back (away from the skull), and one in the lower back (toward the skull). These curves give the spine its signature gentle “S” shape. When the lower back, also known as the lumbar spine, has a too-pronounced curve, medical professionals call it lordosis or hyperlordosis.
Hyperlordosis sometimes goes by the more colloquial term of swayback, and it’s easy to see why when you see someone with the condition. Because the lower back arch caused by lordosis pushes the spine so far forward, it causes the pelvis to move backward and up. This can lead to significant discomfort. A 2017 study published in the journal Spine found a significant relationship between lordosis-like syndromes and lower back pain.
While hyperlordosis is associated with spondylolisthesis (a disorder that occurs when one spinal disc slips onto the disc below it), it more often arises due to simpler causes. Some contributing factors include:
- Poor posture
- Sitting or standing for excessive periods
- Wearing high-heeled shoes
- Poor core muscle tone
- Spinal trauma
Women and young children are also more likely to suffer from hyperlordosis.
Exercises to Reduce an Arched Back
Fortunately, if you have an arched back, you can practice hyperlordosis exercises at home or with a physical therapist to get some relief. In 2021, Indian Journal of Physiotherapy and Occupational Therapy included a study showing that a specific exercise protocol “conducted for 35 minutes/4 days/week … was significantly effective in reducing hyper-lordosis of lumbar spine as well as improved abdominal muscle strength.” Similarly, a 2015 study published in Journal of Physical Therapy Science found that some forms of exercise were effective at stabilizing the pelvis. But that study also offered certain cautions — and we’d like to do the same. While we will list some back arch stretches and discuss arching back exercise benefits, nothing should be considered medical advice. Always consult with your doctor or physical therapist prior to beginning a new exercise regime.
In the following list of arched back exercises and flexibility exercises, we will include a colloquial name (or an accompanying asana name if the exercise derives from yoga practice), basic instructions on how to perform them, and a link to a video if available. Again, please do not assume that any exercise is necessarily safe for your body. Consult with a physiotherapist or a physician.
With that being said, our list of exercises begins with:
- Swiss-Ball Pelvic Tilts: Sit on a large, inflatable, physiotherapy ball (aka a Swiss ball or yoga ball) so that your knees make a 90-degree angle as your feet meet the floor. Move your pelvis backward (which will cause to round your back). Then arch your back (which will move your pelvis forward). Repeat in sets of 8 or 10. This will strengthen your abdominals and gluteus maximus.
- Kneeling Hip Flexor Stretch: Place some kind of soft pad on the floor and kneel. Lift and shift one knee forward, placing your foot on the ground. Tuck your pelvis forward, squeezing both your abdominals and gluteus maximus. Shift forward until you feel a stretching sensation in the leg with the knee still on the floor. Switch and repeat.
- Child’s Pose / Prayer Pose (Balansana): Kneel with your feet flat and your backward-pointing toes touching. Spread your knees slightly wider than the width of your body. Lean forward, pressing your face to the floor/exercise mat while reaching forward with your hands and tucking your tailbone. This back arch stretch helps reduce lower back pain.
- Cobra Pose (Bhujangasana): If you’re wondering how to get arch in lower back, then this exercise is for you. Lay flat on your face on the floor or an exercise mat. Tuck your tailbone, press the tops of your feet down, and place your palms underneath your shoulders. Then press your body away from the ground with your hands, lifting your head, shoulders, and lower torso. The benefits that this pose provides include stretching and toning of supporting abdominal muscles.
- Abdominal Crunches: Lay flat on your back with your feet flat on the floor. Dig in your heels, place your hands behind your head, and lift forward until your shoulders lift off of the ground or mat. Make sure that your lower back remains flat and that you don’t pull on your head or neck.
- Dead Bugs: The name may sound gross, but this exercise strengthens your core while keeping your spine in a neutral position. To perform it, lay on your back with your bent legs lifted and your arms extended over your head. Draw your navel toward the floor and flatten your back. Then straighten one leg until it hovers above the floor and drop the opposing arm as well. Draw both back up and repeat with the other side. (It’s hard to describe this one, so make sure to watch the linked video.)
How Can You Tell If You Have Hyperlordosis?
Hyperlordosis most commonly presents in an altered posture, and an easy way to test as to whether or not you have the condition involves testing the way you stand. One simple test involves standing with your back to a wall, your legs roughly shoulder-width apart, and your heels a couple of inches from the wall. In this position, your glutes, shoulders, and head should touch the wall, and you should have just enough space around your lower back to slip your hand through. If you have hyperlordosis, though, you’ll have much more space around your lower back.
When You Should See a Specialist for an Arched Back?
While hyperlordosis isn’t usually a serious condition and you can often manage it at home, there are times when you will want to see a doctor. Why? Because lordosis is sometimes concomitant with spondylolisthesis (which is a serious spinal problem), you should see a doctor if you’re experiencing pain or if the curvature of your spine seems to be rigid rather than flexible. These may indicate the presence of a more troubling problem that may or may not be spondylolisthesis. If you have an additional issue, you may need to wear a back brace or undergo surgery.
If you’re experiencing any of the above symptoms or are simply concerned about hyperlordosis, contact us here at The Spine Center. With more than 50 years of experience in treating patients, our fellowship-trained doctors are here to help you regain your full functionality.