Can Dowager’s Hump Be Reversed?
“Don’t slouch your back or it’ll stay that way!” You may have written off that warning as just a scare tactic when it came from Mom, but it turns out she may have been right. That warning is now issued by neuro-musculoskeletal experts across the globe.
Slouching slumping, hunching, sagging, drooping, stooping — however you want to describe poor posture — can lead to Dowager’s Hump, commonly called hunchback (yes, like the famed beast of Notre Dame – but not as dramatic).
Even the medical term for Dowager’s Hump, postural kyphosis, embodies its cause: poor posture. This outward curvature of the upper back causes a bump on the base of the neck, forward head posture, pain, and many other debilitating symptoms. According to the National Library of Medicine, 20-40% of older Americans are affected by it.
Yes, Dowager’s Hump can often be reversed. But of course, as you may expect, it’s not a quick and easy fix. After all, it takes years to develop. Read on to discover the causes, symptoms, treatments and exercises that can improve or correct this unnatural spinal curvature.
What Causes Dowager’s Hump?
In rare instances, when the spine is not fully formed at birth, Dowager’s Hump can be a genetic condition. In some cases, it can also be a manifestation of osteoporosis, Spina Bifida, or Cushing’s syndrome. But by far the most common cause of Dowager’s hump (or hunchback) is a very common habit: poor posture.
Your spine is the master mover of your entire body, so poor posture habits eventually affect all of it. Slouching while standing or walking, leaning back in chairs or carrying heavy bags can stretch the ligaments and muscles that support your vertebrae, which can increase your spinal curvature.
When the thoracic vertebrae in your upper back becomes too stretched out, you can slowly develop postural kyphosis (spinal curvature of more than 50 degrees). There are many ways to check for poor posture.
Symptoms of Dowager’s Hump
The outward curvature of the upper back’s thoracic vertebrae is obvious to any observer. It appears as a rounded hunch — thus the term “hunchback.” Dowager’s Hump also presents with a forward head posture (the head juts forward to varying degrees). If you notice your spine is curving or that you have a hard time standing straight, you may be developing this condition.
According to the National Library of Medicine, poor posture can gradually cause you to:
- Misalign your musculoskeletal system
- Make your spine more fragile and injury-prone
- Generate headaches, as well as neck, shoulder, and back pain
- Decrease your flexibility
- Disrupt your joint movement
- Weaken your balance, increasing your risk of falling
- Cause fatigue and dizziness
Severe late-stage complications of kyphosis can include:
- Persistent back pain
- Difficulty walking, looking up, getting up from a sitting position
- Numbness or tingling in legs
- Shortness of breath or trouble breathing
- Digestive issues
- Bladder or bowel control challenges
As with every condition, symptoms vary depending on your age, general health, lifestyle and determination to reach your wellness goals before a Dowager’s Hump can intensify.
Can Dowager’s Hump Be Reversed with Exercise?
According to the Cleveland Clinic, the answer is yes, it often can.
Depending on your age, medical history, lifestyle and, of course, the severity of your Dowager’s Hump, you often can improve or even reverse this misalignment.
It can be accomplished by gradually strengthening and toning your upper back muscles to gently pull up your shoulders and your head.
You can begin this process at home with the following exercises:
Legs Up the Wall
- Sit flat on the ground with your side close against the wall
- Lean back onto your hands, spinning your body slightly and sliding the back of your legs up the wall Recline onto your back with your feet facing the ceiling
- Slowly inch your bottom closer to the wall, keeping your hands in place on your stomach
- Close your eyes and relax. Hold for two to three minutes
- Lay on your back with your arms at your sides, palms down. Put your feet flat on the floor with your knees up
- Lift your hips to the sky, on the inhale, while pressing down on the soles of your hands. Hold for three breaths
- Release this tension on an exhale, lowering your body one vertebra at a time
- Repeat three times. Once complete, sway your knees gently back and forth to release any tension in the spine
- Starting from the Plank Pose, press the hips up and back. Press your chest towards your knees
- Make sure your heels are hip-width apart, and your fingers are spread wide with weight evenly distributed through your hands
- Relax your head and neck, and shoulders away from your ears, sending your gaze towards your toes
- Stay here for anywhere between 30 seconds to a minute
Maintaining Your Natural Posture Every Day
The good news? Dowager’s Hump is preventable and quite often reversible! It just requires gradually changing some habits. Start by making sure:
- Your shoulders are slightly back and relaxed
- Your head is neutral with your chin parallel to the ground
- Your stomach tucked in
- Your back is straight
Consider implementing a regular postural awareness check-in. If you notice your hips are slanted forward and slouching, try creating a slight c-shaped curve in your low back by arching your abdomen forward to redirect your weight towards your “sit” bones. Flexing your ab muscles is another way to remind the body to sit up straight. All these adjustments to your posture will also help promote your general wellness.
How an Experienced DC May Help You Correct Dowager’s Hump
After a “hands on” palpation of your back to discover the exact location of your misalignments, your DC may perform an Xray to determine the phase of misalignment and the amount of degenerative changes in your spine. Then they will gently and strategically release abnormally moving joints to restore your nervous system functions.
Because the type and severity of each patients Dowager’s hump is unique, each care plan will include a custom protocol using one or more of these evidence-based techniques:
- Specific Spinal Manipulation
This technique helps your chiropractor identify restricted joints with abnormal motion. Using a gentle thrusting technique, they’ll gently stretch your soft tissue in a specific direction and with a calculated depth to create of the misaligned vertebrae.
- Adjustment Protocols
Your DC may choose either a specific adjustment (gentle force applied to one’s joint or articulation for short leverage exchanges) or a general adjustment (the mobilization of more than a single joint at a time).
- Chiropractic BioPhysics®(CBP)
This technique combines standard chiropractic joint adjustments with mirror image (opposite position) postural adjustments, mirror image spinal/postural exercise, and mirror-image traction for gentle postural correction.
- Drop techniques
As your DC provides a sudden gentle thrust to your spinal or pelvic area, the area of your body being worked on is simultaneously dropped by the table. This technique allows for thorough alignments that release pressure from your spine, reduce your inflammation and improve your flexibility.
Whichever technique your DC chooses, its purpose will be to help your body remember its natural vertebrae and joint position, which your posture has shifted. Just as machines need regular maintenance to function optimally, our bodies need regular care. Chiropractic adjustments not only direct posture healing, they help prevent injury and promote your wellness goals.
- In-clinic Active Therapies
After delivering your adjustment, your clinic team will prescribe, train you on and supervise a personalized active therapy protocol. Your exercises may include seated or walking traction, floor exercises, wall exercises, and other stretching or strengthening exercises depending on your needs.
- Correction Back Brace
Sometimes a brace is needed for a little extra support until your spine is realigned properly as it will train your body to hold and correct the overall curvature of your spine.
- Home exercises
After reviewing your assessments and watching your in-clinic progress, your DC may assign you a set of exercises to do at home. They’ll become gradually more difficult as your improvement progresses and your back strengthens.
If you take these steps consistently as instructed, you may be able to reverse Dowager’s Hump and enjoy your natural spinal curvature once again. Of course, your healing journey will require finding a reputable chiropractor that’s right for you.
Ready to take on your Dowager’s Hump with the Help of a Highly Experienced DC?
Check in with your nearest Chiro One doc at one of our welcoming open-plan clinics across the country. They’ll perform a thorough exam to investigate the root cause of your pain, then personalize your care plan — a combination of gentle chiropractic adjustments and active therapies to get you feeling better longer. Find a Chiro One doctor near you.