The human spine is naturally designed to have curves—one at the top and one at the bottom. Often described as an “S” shape, the spine’s curvature is necessary to balance out stress from your daily movements. The backbone sometimes curves a bit too much, which could result in a “hunched” back. However, other times the spine goes in the opposite direction. When this happens, it’s a condition known as flat back. Here’s how it’s typically diagnosed and treated.
Flat back typically affects the lower portion of the spine. A common reason for a gradual loss of the spine’s natural curve in this area is age-related disc wear (degenerative disc disease). As discs become less spongy and supportive, the spine develops a forward lean, which causes its lower curve to slowly go away.
The backbone can also go “flat” because of a chronic inflammatory disease called ankylosing spondylitis, vertebral fractures (bone breaks), and issues related to surgery to take pressure off spinal nerves. Symptoms associated with flat back include:
• A noticeable forward lean as you walk or stand • A loss of balance • Difficulty standing • Muscle tiredness or weakness • Leg pain • Discomfort that steadily gets worse throughout the day
The first step in flat back treatment is getting a positive diagnosis. This process usually involves a physical exam, a discussion of what you’re experiencing, a review of your medical history, and image tests. The diagnostic process also includes a determination of how much damage has been done to nerves and/or various spinal segments within the affected area.
Most patients with flat back respond well to conservative (non-surgical) treatments. If your symptoms are mild or you’re in the early stages of the condition, you may be advised to adopt a fitness program that includes core muscle strengthening that targets the muscle groups that provide some type of support to your spine and its discs. A non-surgical treatment plan for flat back may also involve:
• Spinal manipulation • Therapeutic stretches • Medication to ease pain and control inflammation
Conservative treatments won’t reverse a flat back and make it properly curved again. However, strengthening supporting muscles could relieve discomfort and slow down or prevent further “flattening” of your lower spine.
If conservative treatments aren’t providing sufficient relief, surgery may become an option worth considering. The goal with surgery is to realign and stabilize your spine. Surgery may also be necessary to take pressure off irritated nerve roots and correct other structural problems related to flat back. If their spine specialists recommend one of the common procedures performed today, such as a vertebroplasty procedure, Beverly Hills patients can be reassured by the fact that these procedures often involve minimally invasive techniques that minimize risks and shorten recovery times.
One of the most effective ways to prevent flat back is to avoid placing too much stress on your spine’s discs, especially ones in the lower back (lumbar) area, which means getting about 20–30 minutes of exercise 3–4 days a week, being mindful of how you lift heavy or awkward items, and watching your posture as you sit, stand, and sleep.
If you suspect you may have flat back syndrome or you’re experiencing severe neck or back pain of any kind, consult a Beverly Hills spine surgeon right away. At The Spine Institute, our physicians are industry leaders when it comes to diagnosing and treating neck and back pain. Call one of our friendly representatives today at 310-828-7757 to schedule a consultation.