What is Flat Low Back Posture and What Can You Do About It?

A flat low back can cause neck pain, too.
A flat low back can cause neck pain, too.. SEBASTIAN KAULITZKI / Getty Images

Flat Low Back Posture Definition

As the name implies, a flat low back posture is a reduction or elimination of the normal curve in your lumbar area.  If you have this type of posture, you may find that standing for long periods of time is difficult.

You might also find that your flat low back posture automatically moves your head and neck forward - this can cause strain in those areas, as well as in the upper back and shoulders.

Flat low back posture, and other types of posture problems (for example, excessive lumbar lordosis and swayack, are generally caused by muscle imbalances.  

Too much tension in some muscles that control the position of and movement of the pelvis, and too much stretch and/or weakness in others creates a chronic posture pattern that pushes the bottom of the pelvis forward, and the top (hip bones) back.  

This pelvic posturing, in turn, decreases the normal lordotic curve in your low back. That's because - anatomically speaking - the spine is wedged in between the two hip bones in back, so when the pelvis moves, the spine follows.  In the case of flat low back posture, the pelvis is tilted back, and the spine, which is brought along for the ride, is also moved back.  This translates to a decrease in the amount of forward curve you have, i.e., you have less lordosis and more flattening in that area.

It's possible to see a flat low back curve with the naked eye.  This is best done by looking at the body from the side view.  Basically, it looks like a straight line at the low back area. If the person you're viewing does not have flat low back posture, you'll likely notice a curve that goes towards the front of the body.

By the way, the normal lordotic curve is part of the natural spinal alignment; it helps you to balance your body as you meet the physical demands of your daily activities.

Muscle Patterns that Come with Flat Low Back

Hamstring muscles attach to the bottom of the pelvis.  Hamstrings are considered to be hip extension muscles - their job is to take your thigh behind you, and in doing so, and help stretch the front of the hip.  

In the case of flat low back posture, the bottom of the pelvis is brought towards the back of the thigh resulting in extra tightening in that muscle.  The chronically tense hamstring contributes to the backward tilt of the pelvis which, as we've discussed, contributes to the flattening out of the normal low back curve.

Along with tight hamstrings, the flat low back posture may also lead to strong lower abs, overstretched or weak back muscles, and weak quadriceps muscles. 

While in general, it is good for your back to have strong abdominals, itcan become excessive and imbalanced when you have flat low back posture.

 Relying on poor posture is decidedly not the best way to strengthen abdominals. (Performing abdominal strengthening exercises is.)

What You Can Do About Your Flat Low Back Posture

To address flat low back posture, stretching and strengthening exercises are used.  Perhaps the best strategy is to use exercise to reverse the pattern of muscle imbalance that keeps the flat low back in place.  Hamstring and ab stretches are key in this process.  (See below for more details.)

The National Health Service in the U.K. recommends the following exercises to strengthen core, buttocks, back, neck and rear shoulder muscles.

In all likelihood, though, using a gentle, sustained hamstring stretch held for about 30 seconds at a time (do once or twice daily) will be the best way to restore proper alignment to your lumbar spine in the case of flat low back posture.

Sources

Kisner, Carolyn, and Colby, Lynn Allen. Therapeutic Exercise - Foundations and Techniques. 4th. Philadelphia, Pa: F.A. Davis Company, 2002.

Kendall, Florence Peterson, McCreary, Elizabeth Kendall, and Provance, Patricia Geise. Muscles Testing and Function with Posture and Pain. 3rd. Baltimore, Maryland: Williams & Wilkins, 1983.

National Health Service. Common posture mistakes and fixes. NHS choices webpage. Last update: Jan 2016. Accessed: Aug 2016. http://www.nhs.uk/Livewell/Backpain/Pages/back-pain-and-common-posture-mistakes.aspx

Continue Reading