Hunchback aka Dowager’s Hump: what is it and what to do about it

July 27th, 2021

If you’re troubled by the appearance of a hump on your upper back, you’re not alone.  This is called a hyperkyphosis and is prevalent in 20-40% of older adults and is becoming more and more prevalent in younger people.

The upper spine has a natural curvature called a kyphosis, and when that curvature becomes overly pronounced it’s called a hyperkyphosis, sometimes referred to as a Dowager’s hump or hunchback.  The latter being less flattering and somewhat insulting.

People are typically concerned with their hyperkyphosis for one of two reasons: cosmetic or function.  Some people simply do not like the look of a hump on their backs.  Depending on the cause, the appearance of a hump may be able to be reduced with stretching and postural exercises.

Functionally, hyperkyphosis can be problematic because it can reduce range of motion of the spine and shoulders.

 

Whhat causes hyperkyphosis?

Normal Variations:

Look around any busy street and you’ll see people come in all shapes and sizes.  Some are tall, some are short.  Similar variations exist in the spine.  Some people may have a big curve in their spine and some may have a spine straight as an arrow.

Wherever you fall on that spectrum is probably just fine.  Embrace your body-type by trying to live an active life full of movements you enjoy.  But if you feel the flexibility of your spine hinders you, bring it up to your trusted movement-based chiropractor!

Bad Posture:

Sitting slouched for hours with your shoulders hunched and spine curved can become habitual.  Over time the joints in your spine will become stiff and the muscles in your shoulders will get tight.

Anyone with a desk job will know this struggle.  Fortunately, incorporating regular movement breaks along with stretches and exercises throughout the day can prevent this.

Give the following a try:

Age:

In most people, the amount of kyphosis increases as with age.  This can be attributed to decreased strength of the postural muscles in the back, thinning of the intervertebral discs, and/or loss of bone density.  Staying active and healthy while you’re young can help prevent these changes, and it’s never too late to start!  

 

Medical Conditions:

Certain medical conditions can lead to the appearance of a hump on your back.  These cases account for a very small percentage of people with hyperkyphosis.  If you’re concerned you may have one of the following conditions, close out of Google and see your doctor.

  • Cushing’s Disease is a condition in which the body produces too much of the hormone cortisol.  One symptom is a fatty hump at the base of the neck and upper back.
  • Ankylosing Spondylitis is an autoimmune disease in which the joints of the spine fuse together.  Over time the spine will round into a hunched position.
  • Fractures in the vertebrae called wedge fractures can lead to an accentuation of the normal curve of the upper back.  These fractures are typically seen after a hard fall or in elderly individuals with osteoporosis.

 

SHOULD I BE WORRIED?

For the vast majority of people, hyperkyphosis is not something to be overly concerned about.  If you are concerned, see a trusted movement-based chiropractor or physical therapist.  Implementing stretches and exercises to improve your postural awareness and range of motion can only benefit. 

 
 
 
 
                       

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