Spinal misalignment occurs when a part of the spine is out of its normal position. This not only can lead to worsening posture and balance but can also cause disruptions in the functions of the central nervous system.
How can you tell if you’re having problems with your spinal alignment? Since a spinal misalignment often happens gradually, many people don’t notice they may already be experiencing symptoms of one. However, gradual or long-standing misalignments can be extremely dangerous if left untreated and uncorrected.
When you understand how spine alignment problems appear in the body, you can take the first step to correct it. In this article, we detail the causes of spinal misalignment as well as the most common issues that can occur in people with spinal misalignment and how to correct them.
What is Considered Normal Spinal Alignment?
When looking at the spine laterally, it is normal to see several natural curves in the spine. These curvatures are called lordosis (lordotic curve) and kyphosis (kyphotic curve):
Lordosis: The lordotic curves are present in the neck (cervical spine) and the lower back (lumbar spine). Both resemble backward c-shaped curves.
Kyphosis: The kyphotic curve is present in the midback (thoracic spine). It also resembles a natural c-shape.
Both the cervical and thoracic curves are present at birth and deepen as you age. The lumbar curve develops once you begin standing and walking. All curvatures typically reach normal adult levels by 13 years of age and are the same for all genders.
What Causes Spinal Misalignment?
As your spine keeps you upright, supports your musculoskeletal system, and protects your central nervous system, it must remain in a healthy, optimal alignment. When the spine is perfectly aligned, the body has its best shot at being strong and having unrestricted mobility; however, when the spine is misaligned, it can lead to central nervous system dysfunction and cause a variety of health issues. The most common causes of spinal misalignment are:
- Poor posture or chronic slouching.
- Being overweight or obese.
- Bone growth disorders.
- Repetitive motions.
- Emotional stress.
- Poor ergonomics.
- Anatomical leg length inequalities.
In any case, spinal misalignments can cause a wide variety of adverse symptoms and diseases, including pain, inflammation, limited mobility, herniated discs, arthritis, and muscle spasms. They can also lead to the diagnosis of a spinal curvature disorder. Below are eight common spinal curvature disorders:
- Cervical hypolordosis: Straight neck/lack of curvature or reversed neck curvature.
- Thoracic hyperkyphosis: Hunched back due to excessive curvature.
- Thoracic hypolordosis: Straight or “military” back due to too little curvature.
- Lumbar hyperkyphosis: Excessively indented lower back curvature.
- Lumbar hypolordosis: Loss of lower back curvature—commonly paired with hunching.
- Pelvic tilt: Unnatural pelvic positioning—the main types include anterior pelvic tilt (too much tilt), posterior pelvic tilt (tucked pelvic position), and lateral tilts due to unequal leg lengths or pelvic asymmetry.
- Scoliosis/pseudo-scoliosis: A sideways curvature of the spine. While any deviation laterally from a midline is considered scoliosis, true scoliosis begins at 10 degrees of lateral curvature with a twisting rotation. Pseudo-scoliosis are lateral shifts, bends, and twists in the spine from past trauma or chronic poor posture.
6 Common Spinal Misalignment Problems
If you are concerned about having a possible spinal alignment problem, understanding how it presents can help you get a better understanding. Common signs that your spine is misaligned include:
Gait Abnormalities and Lower Extremity Pain
When your spine is out of alignment, the body weight over your hips may not sit in the proper position, causing you to put unequal weight on one leg. In turn, this can lead you to have an abnormal walking stride in which your feet unevenly hit the ground. Low back, knee, ankle, and foot pain are commonly associated with these misalignments. Examining your shoes can help reveal whether you’re having this issue. You may find that the bottom of one shoe shows more wear and tear if you put abnormal pressure on one leg. In fact, 44% of the asymptomatic population and 75% of the low back pain population have a short leg that can cause back and lower extremity problems. Shifts in the thoracic spine (60% of your body’s weight) and rotations of the pelvis also lead to excess wear and tear on the low back, hips, knees, and feet.
Numbness and Tingling in Extremities
Spinal misalignment can irritate and add tension to your delicate nerves and cut off circulation, which, in turn, can cause numbness or tingling in one or more of your extremities. These sensations can often be described as feeling “pins and needles” in your hands, arms, legs, or feet. The tingling and numbness are actually losses of the sensory functions of the nerve and occur due to a lack of blood flow to the nerve or compression/tension on the nerve.
Inflexibility and Stiffness
Altering the normal spinal curves can cause stiffness and tight muscles all over the body. Symptoms can include neck stiffness, knots in your shoulders, an inability to touch your toes, an uneven range of motion, and tight hamstrings that never loosen no matter how much you stretch. Aside from recovering from exercise, muscles tighten for many reasons, including to guard a damaged area or to support a poor posture, which causes the muscles to be constantly overworked. If left there chronically, tight muscles will appear as a loss of range of motion or inflexibility due to the development of scar tissue, adhesions, and even degeneration. Surprisingly, this process of stiffness is the body’s natural defense mechanism as it adapts to the stresses and strains of your habits over time.
Chronic Head, Neck, or Back Pain
Headaches, joint pains, and backaches can often be symptoms of spinal misalignments and are perhaps the most common reasons for chiropractor visits. When the spine is misaligned, the nerves that travel from the neck up to the head and face are irritated, causing headaches or migraines. Spinal misalignment, seen from the outside as poor posture, creates global muscle imbalances, uneven weight distribution on your joints and discs, and direct tension onto the nervous system. Your body will attempt to protect itself by activating an inflammatory pain response and forcing your muscles to support the poor position.
Common symptoms by area of misalignment include:
- Upper neck: Headaches, migraines, and brain fog.
- Lower neck: Neck, upper back, shoulder pain, and tingling into the upper extremities
- Mid-back: Pain in between the shoulder pains, heartburn/indigestion, and increased state of stress (sympathetics)
- Low back: Lowback pain & spasms, frequent injury from exercise, radiating symptoms into the back of the legs.
- Pelvis: Hip, knee, foot, dysfunction, and sciatica.
Almost everyone feels fatigued at times, but constantly feeling tired even after getting a good night’s rest is not normal. From a balance standpoint, to use your energy efficiently, your body needs to be aligned. Even a relatively minor imbalance can cause the body to waste considerable amounts of energy just balancing yourself in gravity For example, having even just one inch of forward head posture effectively doubles the weight your upper back and neck muscles have to hold up all day.
When looking at circulation and energy levels, loss of curvature has been shown to reduce blood flow to the brain, which may cause a sense of fatigue. Misalignments of the neck are also proven to slow down your electrical energy system, or the nervous system, throughout the brain and central nervous system. Lastly, even if you sleep eight hours a day but your body is in pain, the rest will not be as restorative in nature, leaving you feeling tired all the time.
Our central nervous system controls everything in the body. This is also the body’s main communication center for the immune system. This communication can easily be disrupted when your spine is out of alignment. Consequently, your immune response may be weakened or delayed, which can lead to more frequent illnesses and slower recovery times.
What is the Best Solution for Spine Alignment Problems?
Chiropractic doctors can examine your spine and identify any areas of misalignment that may be causing symptoms. A chiropractor knows how to use the proper techniques to restore the spine’s natural position. If you experience any of these symptoms, the best thing you can do for yourself is to visit a chiropractor who specializes in Chiropractic BioPhysics® (CBP). At PostureWorks, we don’t look for short-term solutions that only mask the problem—we work to eliminate the problem using Chiropractic BioPhysics® so that you can maintain a pain-free life.
Chiropractic BioPhysics®, or CBP, is a deeply researched and results-oriented corrective care technique. CBP-trained chiropractors aim to realign the spine back to health and optimal function while eliminating the source of pain and circulatory and nervous dysfunction. CBP is conservative, evidence-based, and non-invasive. To find out more about spine alignment problems or to schedule your appointment with PostureWorks, contact us today.