Many of my posts have dealt with posture and swayback, and as I’ve recently become aware that swayback is sometimes described as a posture that’s different from the way I refer to it, I want to clarify my meaning of it.
The definition of swayback that I go by is a condition seen in horses with sagging backs. In horse-speak, it’s called swayback, also lordosis, low back and soft back.
Back in the 80s, when I was first writing about posture, “swayback” was common jargon for an overarched back and “lordosis” was the medical term for it, so both words, even now, mean the same thing. These days, a lower back arch is often referred to as “forward pelvic tilt,” although that is more a cause of the overarching than a description of it. The more tilt in the pelvis, the more arch in the back.
The photos above show the similarity between a swaybacked horse and a person doing a push-up with a dropped waist. In a standing position, the photo would show swaybacked posture according to my understanding of it.
For both horse and human, the cause of swayback is the same. Just as a horse’s back sags when the length of its spine does not support the weight of its body, so do our backs sag when there is not a strong, aligned connection from the back of our pelvis to the rest of our spine.
This was the point of my previous article, What a Horse’s Butt Taught Me About Posture. With a forward tilt to the pelvis, upper body weight falls onto the lower back where it strains the muscles and causes pain.
Confusion sets in when swayback refers to posture in which the upper body is leaning backward, the pelvis pushes forward and the lower back is all but flattened out, as in the photo on the left below. This interpretation of swayback is described as the upper body “”swaying backward” and is not my understanding of the word, which as above is “”lower back arching,” a far more common use of the word.
Aside from horses, even a barn is called swaybacked
when its roof is collapsed in the middle.
The photo on the right in the triple photo below shows a slouched-down swayback. Rather than the leaning back posture of the first photo, with almost no arching, the body is dropped downward, causing the lower back to arch.
The centre photo shows a combination of the upper body leaning backward and the pelvis tilted forward, making an exaggerated swayback.
The point to all this is that leaning backward and tilting the pelvis forward are two causes of swayback, not to be confused with definitions of swayback.
I did a Google search to see what I could find there about swayback because the conflicting viewpoints are bound to be highly confusing to people looking for correct information. That was a big mistake! The number of swayback illustrations and photos of both variations, all claiming to be swaybacks, was enough to make me dizzy.
Wikipedia gave a simple enough description. It said, “Lumbar hyperlordosis (excessive lower back arch) is a common postural position where the natural curve of the lumbar region of the back is slightly or dramatically accentuated. Commonly known as swayback … a major feature of lumbar hyperlordosis is a forward pelvic tilt, resulting in the pelvis resting on top of the thighs.”
I don’t know the origin of the “”lean back” swayback, but here you have in the bold text the definition of swayback, along with the major cause of it, that my writings are based on. So I’ll stay with the horse-speak meaning, which is an arched lower back.
Important as it is to know what we’re talking about, the more important thing is to know how to fix it, and this is something I know about.
Below is a photo of me as platoon leader in a public school “”march by,” standing with my very own forward-tilted-pelvis swayback some seventy-five years ago. And next to it is what it changed into through my exercise method, Somatic Stretch®.
A physical change like this involves more than stretching your hip flexors and lower back muscles, as is often recommended. Although stretching these areas is necessary for eliminating the tilt, the intricacies of the body’s interconnections are so complex that expecting the positioning of the pelvis to change with a few isolated stretches is unrealistic.
The whole body needs to be worked on as a unit, so that the tangled web of internal connections gets sorted out organically, with time given for the bodily changes and new patterning habits to become the norm.
Though it takes time, patience and persistence, reworking your body to make it the best it can be is one of the most rewarding, healthful and empowering things you can do for yourself.
As I’ve often said, “”Performance is only as good as the condition of the instrument.” Since your body is your instrument, the more “”right” you can make it, the better it will work in everything you do. And the happier you’ll be!
If you want to know how to get your body stacked straight and working properly, contact me here to book a personal coaching session, or just to discuss your needs.