Posted on 12 April 2024

As we age, our postures change. Technology, sedentary lifestyles and a busy schedule all mean our posture is often the last thing we’re focused on. Kyphosis, a Dowager’s Hump, a hunchback – all roughly mean the same thing, and are feared by office workers who put in many hours in less than optimal positions in front of a screen. Sometimes, people are born with a curvature in their top vertebrae, but here we focus on preventing the deformation of the top of the back and neck solely to bad posture and lifestyle factors.

The most common cause, all else equal, is lifestyle factors. Weakness in the muscles of the upper back and neck, coupled with tightness in the neck and chest, often contribute to the formation of this forward-leaning hump.

Additionally, several other factors may play a role:

  • Degenerative Spine Changes: The gradual deterioration of spinal structure and function, typical of aging, can lead to various degrees of degeneration. Factors such as arthritis, tumors, and infections can exacerbate these changes, resulting in alterations in spinal curvature. This can also happen from repeated straining to look at a screen over time. This dual effect results in the characteristic bump in the upper back. Women are especially prone to this change.

  • Osteoporosis: Compression fractures (including losing water in the discs between the spine) can lead to an increased forward curve in the upper back, prompting individuals to compensate by extending their necks further for better visibility.

  • Underlying Pathologies: Conditions such as spinal infections, fractures, tumors, and calcifications of spinal ligaments can alter spinal shape and contribute to the development of a dowager's hump.

  • Congenital Factors: In rare cases, improper spinal formation before birth can predispose individuals to this condition.

However, things can be done to change the tide. The majority of treatments look at physical therapy to correct poor posture and promote a more mindful approach to posture throughout the day. Some good things to start with are simple physical therapy exercises, but those with issues that are not solved by the simple things below and have experienced a Dowager’s Hump for a long time will likely need more intensive treatment and to check for underlying issues.

  • Chin Tucks: This exercise involves pulling your chin straight back, which not only benefits the discs in your neck but also strengthens the muscles in your neck. Aim to perform three sets of 10 repetitions daily to reap the benefits.

  • Scapular Squeezes: By squeezing your shoulder blades together, you can effectively target and strengthen your upper back muscles. Incorporate three sets of 10 repetitions of scapular squeezes into your daily routine.

  • Doorway Pectoral Stretches: Stand in an open doorway and raise your arms to form a "goalpost" shape, with your palms facing forward. Place your palms against the door frame and step forward with one foot to feel a stretch across your chest. Hold this position for 20 to 30 seconds, and repeat two to three times daily to help alleviate tightness in the chest and improve posture.

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