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(Hyper)Lordosis, the Mother of all Distortions (Part Three)

by Joel Carbonnel(more info)

listed in bodywork, originally published in issue 240 - August 2017

This is the third and last column about hyper-lordosis being the source of all our acquired distortions and postural defects. Here are links to Part One and Part Two. To recap: due to an increase of muscle tone in groups of mainly poly-articular and overlapping muscles, the lordoses or concavities in our spine deepen. Abnormally bent backward by an excess of tension found in the powerful back and other muscles, the normal, physiological lordoses deviate from their normal curve to become hyper-lordotic. This is the first step in a distorting process which can eventually spread to the whole body.

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The head, balanced at the top of the spine, is thrust into a forward head position, a movement that can originate at the cervico-thoracic junction or around T7. It can also be tilted back from the top of the cervical spine. It is also frequently leaning and/or turning to one side. At the other end of the spine, the pelvis is displaced forward and tilted backward with hyper-extended hip-joints or it is tilted forward.

If our lordoses were just to become unduly concave; if, in other words, they were to deviate from their normal shape in only one plane that would be relatively simple. But it’s not what usually happens. Under the excess of tension coming from the constant increase of muscle tone, the whole  spine twists on itself into a helix shape. It is called scoliosis when this twist reaches a certain magnitude.

Our distortions are in 3D. Our lordoses tend to side-bend and to rotate around their long axis. Most commonly, they side-bend to the right so that the spine at their level is convex to the left and they rotate towards the left which makes the concavity to be deeper on the right side of the spine. When that rotation is sufficiently pronounced, one can easily see in the lower back that the muscles on the left side stick out more than the muscles on the right side. It is not because they are more developed but because they have been pushed back by the rotation of the vertebral bodies.

In that scenario where the lordoses bend to the right and rotate to the left, the opposite movements occur at their junction which we call kyphosis. Here, due to the presence of ribs, the rotational movement is much more visible in the form of a bump on the right side of the back usually around T7. The shoulder blade on this side is also affected and its inferior angle is lifted up.

Now, the side bending and rotation of our lordoses drag along with them our shoulder and pelvic girdles. That’s why most if not all of us have slanted shoulder and or pelvic girdles. Likewise, you would have a hard time finding someone without one shoulder or one ‘hip’ more forward than the other.

Our torso, instead of being the picture of normal morphology made of straight, oblique and symmetrical lines now presents a distorted picture made of angular ones with bumps and hollows. What a mess is Man! He is far from being “…The beauty of the world! The paragon of animals!” as described by Shakespeare in Hamlet.  Sadly, the process does not stop at the trunk. The body, to escape from the chronic tension coming from the ever increasing muscle tone, gives itself some slack, further away from the spine, by distorting its limbs.

In the lower limb, the distortion of choice is the medial (inward) rotation of the femur: the knees turn in. In the lower leg, it is either an inward or outward rotation that takes place. The resulting rotations and counter-rotations will give rise to bow legs (genu varum), knocked knees (genu valgum) or/and knee hyperextension (knee recurvatum). The feet are not spared from this rippling down of distortions, far from it: hallux valgus with its bunion, quintus varus, hammer toes, flat or hollow feet, depressed transversal arches is the common fate of the foot. All of these deformities are caused from an excess of muscle tone which started its distorting process in the lordoses of our spines.

The upper limb is not more immune from distortions than the lower one. The arm tends to rotate outwards; the lower arm, inwards. After a certain age, in the standing position, the palms of the hands frequently look backward instead of facing the lateral side of the thigh. But I’ll spare you a description of more specific distortions of the hand and wrist.

It is worth stressing that the importance of morphology goes well beyond just aesthetics. After all, some shapes which are, in my book, distortions, bizarrely can at times become coveted because they are the flavour of the month or the year or a generation or a culture.

Yet, one does not depart from the natural shape and posture without inviting pain and dysfunction. At first, acquired postural defects arise without our being aware of them to enable us to escape the tension and discomfort caused by the excessive tone in postural muscles - distortion has an antalgic effect. But the body cannot cope for too long when its parts are misaligned and its joints are under constant compressive forces. Distortions lead inevitably to functional and structural disorders. To give just one example, genu varum (the condition of having bow knees), when severe enough, leads to gonalgia (knee pain) and knee arthrosis which gradually destroys the cartilage. The same could be said about genu valgum or knock knees. It is why decreasing the excess of tone in postural muscles can be used as a preventative measure as well as a therapeutic one.

If you had a bow in which the wood would be too curved, would you tighten its string even more or would you give it some slack? The answer is obvious. But when it comes to the exaggerated curves in their spines and all the postural defects which come from them, most people abandon logic and rationality and end up tightening the ‘string’ (muscles) even more when trying to get into good shape or to remedy musculo-skeletal disorders.  Don’t be like them - aim to loosen up the strings of the bows in your spine rather than tightening them even more.    

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About Joel Carbonnel

Joel Carbonnel is unique in combining the disciplines of the Alexander Technique (STAT), the Mezieres Methode (AME), Morphopsychology (SFM), and Natural Hygiene (ISI). From this synthesis he has developed Orthomorphics which is centered around the close relationship of Use, Form and Function. He practises in London and Haywards Heath, and can be contacted on Tel: 020-8747 8583;  joelcarbonnel@hotmail.com    www.orthomorphy.co.uk

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