Lordosis is the medical term that describes the natural inward curve or “arch” in your lower back. While there’s nothing abnormal about lordosis, an excess arch, or “hyperlordosis,” is a common cause of lower back pain and protruding gut. And you thought it was all the beer. Guess again. The picture above shows how most surfers paddle out on their surfboards. Muscles are contracted to help balance us on our surfboards while lying in the prone position with our shoulders, chest, neck and head all arched up while our lower back is also arched thus creating a “sway back,” a term commonly used in the equine industry for older horses that have a dip in their spine.
As you can see in the picture on the right, hyperlordosis pushes the pelvis forward which causes the abs and glutes to stick out. Meanwhile, the excess arching puts stress on the lower spine which can cause lower back pain when you surf, squat, deadlift, walk and sometimes even while standing. If not properly treated, lordosis has been known to cause a hernia over time.
So how do we eliminate our hyperlordosis? For surfers, the two main causes of hyperlordosis are almost always too much paddling and not enough stretching of the back before and after surfing. Excess body fat also helps contribute to lordosis. When you sit a lot, which most of us do, hip flexors shorten, which pulls the pelvis forward as a result. Excess belly fat will pull the pelvis to the front and also make it tilt thus creating lower back pain.
1. Lose your belly fat. Start by eating healthier: less junk food/soda, less carbs, and more whole foods (lean beef, chicken, tuna, veggies). Couple this with strong lifts 5×5, three times per week to boost your metabolism and you’ll gain muscle while losing fat and strengthening your abs. I personally like a lean seafood diet.
2. Stretch your hip flexors. Daily routine exercises like the warrior lunge stretch for sets of 15 seconds will stretch these muscles tight from sitting. Quick trick: squeeze the glute of your back leg for a bigger stretch.
3. Stretch your upper body. Hyperlordosis is almost always coupled with slouching shoulders. Get a resistance band and do daily shoulder dislocations for 3 sets of 10 reps.
4. Squat correctly. Prevent lower back pain by pushing your abs out and your knees to the side when you squat. Your exercise and form will prevent excess arching. The latter will involve your glute muscles more.
5. Sit less. Surf more. Do something. I know it’s hard to impossible for most guys and gals to do, but the simple fact is that that our jobs do not allow this. If you can’t exercise before or after work, try to do some desk exercises, stretches and get up as much as you can and avoid sitting when you’re not working (waiting in queues standing, eat standing at home, etc.).
A major factor of lordosis is anterior pelvic tilt–when the pelvis tips forward when resting on top of the femurs. This can cause serious pain. Lordosis of the lower back may be treated by strengthening the hip extensors on the back of the thighs and by stretching the hip flexors on the front of the thighs as stated above.
There has been too much importance attributed to the abdominal muscles in maintaining a neutral spine position. It may help by pushing the internal organs against the spine hence alleviating the lumbar curvature, but they can’t rotate the pelvis backward while in a standing position. Also, the lumbar erector spinae is not able to rotate the pelvis forward while standing, hence its strengthening is not to be avoided during lordosis treatment. Only the muscles on the front and on the back of the thighs can rotate the pelvis forward or backward while in a standing position because they can discharge the force on the ground through the legs and feet. Abdominal muscles and erector spinae can’t discharge force on an anchor point while standing, unless one is holding his hands somewhere, hence their function will be to flex or extend the torso, not the hip. Back hyper-extensions on a “Roman Chair” or inflatable ball will strengthen all the posterior chain and will treat lordosis.
Stiff-legged deadlifts and supine hip lifts and any other similar movement strengthening the posterior chain without involving the hip flexors in the front of the thighs are great exercises. Abdominal exercises could be avoided altogether if they stimulate the psoas and the other hip flexors too much. Anti-inflammatory pain relievers may be taken as directed for short-term relief. Physical therapy effectively treats 70% of back pain cases due to scoliosis, kyphosis, lordosis, and bad posture. Usually a chiropractor and some physical therapists do this type of rehab. The L4-L5 and L5-S1 levels are most commonly involved in fusion procedures, or arthrodesis, and contribute to normal lumbar Lordosis. Hypolordosis is more common than hyperlordosis which is leaning forward or the complete opposite of normal hyperlordosis. Hypolordosis can be corrected non-surgically through rehabilitation exercises.
So what does this mean for surfers – technical, medical mumbo jumbo aside? It means to avoid lower back pain, surfers need to stretch out before and after surfing? If not, your back is gonna hurt! We all heard the saying, “a body in motion stays in motion,” meaning if you take care of yourself, it’s easier to keep working. But if you rest and then go work out, you may hurt yourself. So keep surfing, and keep being stoked and you will have nothing but happy pain-free days ahead!