Category: Spine | Author: Stefano Sinicropi | Date: May 14, 2019
A healthy human spine has a natural curve to it, and with two alternating curves at the top or bottom, many refer to it as an “S” curve. These curves normally balance each other out and help the spine handle stress, but these curves don’t always stay in the correct shape. When the curves become extreme, a person can suffer from a hunchbacked or crooked appearance, but the curves can also move in the other direction. When this happens, the condition is known as flat back. Below, we take a closer look at the causes, symptoms and treatment options for flat back.
Causes and Symptoms of Flat Back
As the name implies, flat back is an abnormal condition in which the spine loses its natural curve in the lumbar spine and becomes flat. One of the most common causes of flat back syndrome is degenerative disc disease, which involves the loss of spinal disc height. As discs degenerate, the spine naturally begins to lean forward and the curve of the bottom of the spine begins to disappear. Other causes include spinal vertebrae fractures causing curvature changes, as a result of complications from spinal nerve decompression surgery, and due to the chronic inflammatory disease ankylosing spondylitis.
Symptoms of flat back include:
- Forward lean when standing or walking
- Difficulty standing
- Leg pain
- Symptoms that worsen throughout the day
- Muscle fatigue
Symptoms tend to be more intense based on the severity of your loss of spinal curve, so while people with mild cases may not even notice their spinal imbalance, patients with serious cases may have difficulty standing or moving due to their spinal changes.
Flat Back Diagnosis and Treatment
Like many spinal conditions, flat back is diagnosed by a spine specialist by reviewing a patient’s history, conducting a physical exam and by taking spinal images. Determining the extent of the condition as well as if nearby nerves or segments are being jeopardized or made unstable is important during the diagnostic process.
Following a flat back diagnosis, your spine specialist will walk you through your treatment options. The good news is that the majority of patients can be treated with conservative options. The beginning stages of treatment will involve a combination of aerobic fitness, exercise, core muscle strengthening and spinal manipulation. Medications can also help with discomfort caused by flat back. While these treatment options won’t reverse the curvature of your spine, they can help to provide symptom relief, increase your muscle strength and balance, and prevent further straightening of the spine.
In rare cases or in instances where conservative care failed to provide relief, surgery may be an option. The goal of any flat back operation is to improve pain levels, readjust the spinal alignment and stabilize the spine. Your surgeon can also decompress nerves or other structures that are being impinged by the shifting spine. There are a number of different operations that can provide relief, and many of them can be performed using minimally invasive techniques, which is easier on the patient and leads to a quicker recovery.
If you or someone you know has been diagnosed with flat back or dealing with symptoms associated with flat back, reach out to Dr. Sinicropi’s office to start a treatment regimen today.