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Understanding Dowager’s Hump: Causes, Symptoms & Exercises

last updated March 6 0 comments

Introduction

Today, we’re talking about Dowagers Hump, a condition that affects many people, particularly as they age. But what exactly is Dowagers Hump? Simply put, a curvature of the upper spine results in a hump-like appearance, often associated with a loss of height and an increased risk of falls. Dowager's Hump is more common than you might think and can significantly impact your posture, comfort, and overall health. That's why it's essential to understand what causes Dowagers Hump, how to prevent it, and how to get rid of it if you already have it. We'll delve into these topics and more in this article, so keep reading!

dowagers hump tech neck

What Is Dowager’s Hump?

Also known as postural kyphosis, dowager’s hump is characterized by an excessive thoracic spine curvature, resulting in a rounded upper back, rounded shoulders, and a forward head position. As you may have guessed from its name, Dowager's Hump is characterized by a hump-like protrusion that can develop in the upper back, often giving those who have it a stooped posture. But it's not just a cosmetic issue of bad posture - this condition can lead to chronic pain, decreased mobility, and injuries.

Anatomically, dowager's hump is caused by changes in the spine's soft tissues, including the vertebral bodies, intervertebral discs, and ligaments. As we age, the discs in the spine can become compressed and lose height, leading to a decrease in the overall curvature of the spine. Additionally, the ligaments and back muscles supporting the spine can weaken, contributing to the excessive curvature seen in the dowager's hump.

So, what causes a dowager’s hump to develop? This condition is often caused by a combination of factors, including age-related changes in the spine, poor posture, osteoporosis, spinal degeneration, and lack of proper exercise.

Poor posture and a sedentary lifestyle can also contribute to developing a dowager's hump. Sitting for prolonged periods in a rounded, forward position can lead to a tightening of the muscles in the chest and a weakening of the muscles in the upper back, exacerbating the curvature of the thoracic spine.

In summary, dowager's hump is a condition caused by changes in the spine's soft tissues, including the vertebral bodies, intervertebral discs, and ligaments, as well as factors such as age and poor posture, osteoporosis, and spinal degeneration.

But don't worry. There are ways to prevent and treat Dowager's Hump. In the next sections, we'll explore the steps you can take to keep your upper back healthy and pain-free.

dowager's hump with sitting posture

What Causes Dowager's Hump?

Dowager's hump, also referred to as a hunchback, buffalo hump, upper back hyperkyphosis, neck hump, and sometimes Scheuermann’s kyphosis (also Scheuermann’s disease), is caused by various factors. While it's more common in older women (hence the name), it can and does affect anyone at any age. Let's look at some of the most common causes of dowager's hump.

  • Aging: Our bones naturally lose density as we age, making them more prone to fractures. This can cause the upper back to curve and form a hump. You don’t have to be an elderly woman to have it (and that is why it’s called dowager’s hump), as we see more young people with dowager’s hump.
  • Poor Posture: Spending long periods sitting or standing with poor posture can cause the upper back to curve, eventually leading to a hump. And, since we specialize in posture therapy, we see poor posture across all populations more now than ever with our tech-savvy (also tech-dependent or tech-addicted) slouching culture.
  • Osteoporosis: Osteoporosis, a condition that causes bones to become brittle and fragile, can cause spinal fractures at the base of your neck and lead to a dowager's hump. However, this is also a chicken-or-the-egg issue related to the lack of proper stimulation of boney growth due to the misalignment.
  • Inactivity: A sedentary lifestyle can cause the muscles in the upper back to weaken, leading to poor posture and the formation of a hump. Though this deserves mention, types of activity that allow spine flexion can still compromise posture and enable the appearance of a dowager’s hump.
  • Weight Gain: Carrying excess weight can put added pressure on the spine and cause it to curve, leading to a dowager's hump. Therefore, training good posture and strengthening spine extension is essential for those heavier in the chest.
  • Inherited Genetics: Some people may have a genetic predisposition to dowager's hump or bones becoming osteoporotic, so it can run in families. Of course, this is challenged in the “nature vs. nurture debate.”

Overall, it's important to understand that a dowager's hump is not just a cosmetic issue but can also lead to discomfort, limited mobility, and injury. By identifying the possible causes of your dowager’s hump, you can take steps to prevent its progression and even improve your posture.

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Common Issues Related to Dowager’s Hump

dowager's hump neck pain

Dowager's hump can lead to a variety of symptoms, syndromes, and other issues, including:

  1. Neck pain and stiffness - The increased curvature in the thoracic spine and forward head posture can strain the neck and lead to pain and stiffness.
  2. Back pain - The added pressure on the thoracic spine can also lead to back pain, especially in the upper back or base of the neck.
  3. Reduced mobility - The curvature of the thoracic spine can reduce mobility, making it difficult to perform daily activities or exercise.
  4. Postural dysfunction - Dowager's hump can lead to poor posture, causing additional strain on the neck, back, and other areas of the body.
  5. Decreased lung capacity - The thoracic spine curvature can compress the chest cavity, reducing lung capacity and making breathing difficult.
  6. Digestive problems - The curvature of the thoracic spine can also put pressure on the abdominal organs, leading to digestive issues such as acid reflux and constipation.
  7. Reduced self-esteem - Dowager's hump can affect appearance and lead to decreased self-esteem and confidence.
  8. Osteoporosis - Dowager's hump can be a sign of underlying osteoporosis, a condition in which the bones become weak and brittle, making them more susceptible to vertebral fractures.
  9. Spinal Compression Fracture - In severe cases of dowager's hump, the spinal vertebrae can become compressed, leading to a spinal compression fracture. This can result in chronic pain, immobility, and a decline in overall quality of life.
  10. Shoulder Pain - Dowager's hump can lead to shoulder pain due to the changes in posture and alignment that result from the condition. This can occur because the shoulders shifting forward to compensate for the forward head position, leading to muscle strain and discomfort.
prevent dowager's hump

How to Prevent Dowager's Hump

Dowager's hump is a condition that can be prevented, and it's never too late to start! You can significantly reduce your risk of developing this condition by making a few simple changes to your daily habits. Here are some tips to help you prevent developing a dowager's hump:

  1. Maintain good posture - Good posture is critical to preventing a dowager's hump. Train your body’s mobility, stability, strength, and alignment to sit up straight, keep your shoulders back naturally, and align your neck with your spine.
  2. Avoid prolonged sitting, standing, and looking down at mobile devices - Prolonged periods of sitting, standing, or downward gazing can strain your spine and neck. Make sure to take breaks and stretch regularly.
  3. Exercise regularly - Regular exercise can help strengthen your back and neck muscles, reducing the risk of developing a dowager's hump. Posture therapy exercises should be a part of your daily routine!
  4. Use ergonomic equipment - Make sure to use ergonomic office equipment, such as a chair with good lumbar support and a computer screen positioned at eye level. Check out our Ergonomics & Posture Checklist.
  5. Watch your diet - A diet high in calcium and vitamin D can help strengthen your bones, reducing the risk of developing dowager's hump.

By following these simple tips, you can help prevent dowager's hump and maintain good posture for a lifetime!

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How to Get Rid of Dowager's Hump

Dowager's hump can be a frustrating condition to deal with, but the good news is that you can take steps to help reduce or even eliminate it. The first step is seeing an expert specializing in posture and spinal health. If you are having severe pain, discuss your situation with your orthopedic doctor or chiropractor, as they may want to run an X-ray to check for fractures or other severe issues. Given that you can participate in a posture therapy program like Activ8 Posture, a posture-corrective exercise specialist can recommend the best stretches and exercises for pain relief and your specific situation.

In addition to seeking professional guidance, there are also things you can do on your own to help reduce the appearance of your dowager's hump. Staying active and maintaining a healthy weight is essential, as carrying extra weight can put added stress on your spine. Strengthening your back and neck muscles through corrective exercises like posture therapy or similar training can also help.

It's also important to practice good posture when sitting and standing. Ensure your chair and desk are ergonomically designed to support your back and neck, and take frequent breaks to stretch and move around. Using a posture brace or splint can be temporarily helpful, depending on your situation, especially if you spend much time sitting in front of a computer or phone.

With professional guidance and self-care, you can help reduce or even eliminate your dowager's hump and return to feeling confident and comfortable in your skin.

individualized posture therapy

Activ8 Posture Therapy Whole-Body Approach

To get rid of a dowager's hump, it is crucial to address the condition's underlying cause.

Anatomical changes in the spine and surrounding soft tissues can contribute to the formation of a dowager's hump. These changes can include a loss of the thoracic spine's natural curvature, leading to increased rounding and hunching of the upper back. Additionally, the soft tissues surrounding the spine, such as the muscles and ligaments, can become weakened and stretched, further contributing to the development of the condition.

To get rid of a dowager's hump, addressing these underlying changes in the anatomy and physiology of the spine and surrounding soft tissues is essential. This is done through posture therapy exercises that include a whole-body approach, such as gentle stretches and progressive strength training. To make lasting changes, the exercises need to target the muscles, ligaments, and fascia of the upper back and neck in conjunction with the rest of the spine and body alignment. 

Additionally, modifying lifestyle factors, such as maintaining good posture, avoiding prolonged periods of sitting, and engaging in regular physical activity, can help prevent the progression of the condition and promote healing.

It is important to note that the process of getting rid of a dowager's hump takes time and consistent effort and may require the help of a posture therapist. However, with the right combination of therapy and lifestyle modifications, it is possible to improve the appearance of the upper back and reduce the discomfort and limitations associated with a dowager's hump.

Best Stretches to Get Rid of Dowager’s Hump

This section delves into the best stretches for eliminating Dowager's hump. As whole-body posture therapy experts, we understand the importance of stretching and exercise for preventing and correcting posture problems like Dowager's hump.

Remember that if you have conditions such as fractures, osteoporosis, or other issues that prevent you from doing the exercises here, please consult your doctor before doing them.

1. Wall Counter Stretch

counter stretch 1 Activ8 Posture
counter stretch 2 Activ8 Posture

The first stretch to try is the Wall Counter Stretch. Start by standing with your feet around two-and-a-half to three feet from the wall (depending on your height and reach), hip-width apart, and pointing straight towards the wall. Then, place your hands on the wall at shoulder height with your palms flat and your fingers spread open. Keeping your elbows straight, gently bend from the hips and allow your trunk to lower, so your body is more horizontal. Don’t force yourself to go too low; stop if there’s pain. If you’re okay with the stretch, keep your knees extended and allow your spine to extend, holding for 30-60 seconds. This stretch helps to relieve tension in the neck and upper back, which can contribute to Dowager's hump.

2. Sitting Pull-Overs

activ8 posture sitting pullovers 1
activ8 posture sitting pullovers 2

Next, try the Sitting Pull-Overs. Start by sitting upright on the front of a sturdy chair in good posture. Lace your fingers together to make one big fist with both hands. Keeping your elbows straight, raise your arms slowly overhead as far as you can comfortably, stretching your chest and upper back. Then, lower your arms to your lap and repeat the motions. Breathe in as you lift up and exhale as you slowly lower your arms, doing 10-30 repetitions.

3. Sitting Cross-Crawling

sitting cross crawling 2 Activ8 Posture
sitting cross crawling 1 Activ8 Posture

The Sitting Cross-Crawling exercise is another effective whole-body stretch for preventing and correcting Dowager's hump. Start by sitting on the front of a chair with good posture, then simultaneously raise one arm as high as is comfortable while lifting your opposite foot off the floor. Keep your leg up while your arm raises, and lower it when your hand gets back down to your side. Maintain a good sitting posture by extending your low back, then lift the other arm and leg—alternate sides, moving through a controlled, comfortable range of motion for 10 to 20 repetitions. Be sure to coordinate your opposite arm and leg with each lift.

4. Shoulder Blade Squeezes

sitting in extension Activ8 Posture
sitting scapular contraction Activ8 Posture

Finally, the Shoulder Blade Squeezes are a simple exercise that can be done anywhere. Simply sit or stand with good posture and squeeze your shoulder blades together for 15-30 repetitions. Keep your shoulders out of your ears by drawing your shoulder blades down and back as you squeeze. Release and repeat.

Incorporating these stretches into your daily routine can help prevent and correct Dowager's hump and improve your overall posture. Remember, consistency is key, so stretch regularly and observe good posture habits throughout the day.

Posture Therapy: Dowager’s Hump Exercises That Address the Whole Body

dowager's hump with lordosis

As you’ve learned in this article, dowager's hump is a condition that results from an excessive curvature of the thoracic spine. In order to get rid of a dowager's hump posture, it is important to understand the anatomy and physiology of the spine and how it functions as a unit. The spine comprises 33 vertebrae, each of which is crucial in maintaining proper alignment and stability. The cervical, thoracic, lumbar, and sacral regions of the spine are interconnected, and changes in one area can affect others.

One of the key factors in getting rid of a dowager's hump is to address the various myofascial lines that run through the spine, trunk, and rest of the body. These lines are created by the interconnected network of fascia, or connective tissue, that surrounds and supports the muscles and bones. Tension in one area of the myofascial lines can have a ripple effect throughout the entire system, impacting your posture and stability.

In order to effectively get rid of dowager's hump for good, it is also important to focus on pelvic stability and function to support your natural curve of the spine. The pelvis serves as the foundation for the spine, and any changes or imbalances in the pelvic area can greatly impact the alignment and stability of your back. By integrating both the myofascial lines and pelvic stability, you can better eliminate dowager's hump and improve your overall posture and spinal alignment.

In conclusion, getting rid of dowager's hump requires a whole-body approach that considers the interconnections between the spine, myofascial lines, and pelvic stability. By addressing these key factors, you can help to improve your posture, reduce discomfort, and prevent the progression of dowager's hump.

dowager's hump with flat back posture

Conclusion

As we've seen, dowager's hump can be a frustrating and painful condition that affects many people as they age. But by taking a proactive approach to your posture through posture therapy exercises and supportive ergonomics, you can help prevent or even eliminate this condition. There is hope for those who suffer from dowager's hump!

At Activ8 Posture, our posture therapists are experts in helping people improve their posture and overcome conditions like dowager's hump. If you're ready to take the next step in improving your posture and say goodbye to dowager's hump once and for all, we invite you to schedule a Discovery Call with us today.

During your call, we'll discuss your needs and goals and develop a personalized posture therapy plan to help you achieve the desired results. So don't wait any longer - contact us today, and let's get started on your road to wellness!

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