Ever feel like you can’t quite
fix your posture even when you try to sit up straight? If it seems like you always have a slight bump at the base of your neck, it might be due to something called dowager’s hump. Also called hyperkyphosis, a dowager’s hump — which gets its name from older ladies with poor posture — is basically an excessive curvature in your upper back, says Kristina Kehoe, DPT, RYT, a physical therapist with Simpli Whole.
The condition is
common among younger people who sit a lot for work and is said to impact up to 40% of folks after 40 due to natural aging. Don’t stress if this is something you deal with, though — there are plenty of exercises that can help. Here’s everything you need to know about dowager’s hump. What Causes A Dowager’s Hump?
If you type all day or spend a lot of time looking down at your phone, you could start to develop
tech neck or forward head posture. When you constantly look down, the muscles in your neck and back start to weaken to the point they no longer offer spinal support, Kehoe explains, and that’s when a dowager’s hump can form.
According to the Cleveland Clinic,
osteoporosis may also be to blame. The loss of bone mineral density can cause compression fractures in your spine and an increased forward curve. As your head drops down, your spine starts to compensate when it lifts it back up to see forward, which creates the shape of a hump.
There may also be a build-up of fat cells in the area that makes the hump even more noticeable, says
Dr. Matt Tanneberg, DC, CSCS, a chiropractor and owner of Body Check Chiropractic & Sports Rehabilitation. “Our body responds to the abnormal curvature that develops in the upper back by trying to give it more cushion as a defense mechanism,” he tells Bustle. So if you constantly have poor posture, your body will start to send fat cells to the base of the neck to protect the excessive curve in your spine. Signs & Symptoms
Beyond the hunch in your back, dowager’s hump may also lead to ongoing pain in your back, neck, and shoulders. You may also appear shorter due to poor posture, and potentially feel more muscle fatigue as your
body tries to compensate for the incorrect alignment. How To Fix Dowager’s Hump
The best way to improve a dowager’s hump is by making it a habit to
sit up straight throughout the day, Kehoe says. But doing exercises that target your back and shoulders is important, too, as that can strengthen weak muscles and return your neck to its former upright glory. Choose a few moves, do them daily, and you could see some improvement in as little as two to four weeks, notes Dr. Camilla Moore, DC, a chiropractor and founder of Wellness Cabinet.
Here, experts share 11 of the best exercises for dowager’s hump to get you started.
This exercise is designed to improve your postural alignment as well as the strength of the smaller muscles in the neck that play a role in
maintaining good posture, Kehoe says.
- Start by sitting in an upright position.
- Relax your shoulders and jaw.
- Without moving any other muscles, draw your chin in towards you as if you’re making a double chin.
- Hold for 3 to 5 seconds. Repeat 10 times.
- Do chin tucks 3 to 5 times a day.
Shoulder Blade Squeezes
“This move helps to
strengthen the upper back and serves as a reminder to maintain good posture during your day,” Kehoe says.
- Sit or stand with good posture.
- Relax your shoulders and jaw.
- Draw your shoulder blades directly back, attempting to squeeze them together.
- Hold this position for 3 to 5 seconds. Repeat 10 times.
- Do this exercise multiple times per day, especially if you
have a desk job. Cat-Cow
Kehoe also recommends this staple yoga stretch as it improves the
mobility of the upper back. “It also aids in maintaining a neutral posture and improving flexibility of the spine,” she explains.
- Get into an all-fours position with your wrists under your shoulders and your hips stacked over your knees.
- Inhale and drop your stomach down as you look up.
- Exhale and arch your back as you drop your head down.
- Repeat this motion 10 times.
- Do cat-cows 1 to 2 times per day.
Prone TYIs Ethan Cleary, PT, DPT, a doctor of physical therapy at Orthopedic & Sports Physical Therapy, recommends this motion to get rid of a hump. “These are great exercises for shoulder blade and upper back strengthening,” he tells Bustle. And they also improve upper back posture.
- Lie on your stomach.
- Reach your arms out to your sides to create a T shape, thumbs toward the ceiling.
- Reach your arms out at an angle overhead to create a Y shape.
- Reach your arms straight forward to create an I shape.
- Each time you reach, keep your thumbs pointed up and your arms off the floor.
- Do 1 set of 10 reps.
- Progress to 3 sets of 10 per day.
Tanneberg is a big fan of wall angels. “It will help to create strength and muscle memory of the upper body back muscles that get neglected from chronic bad posture,” he says. “Strengthening and creating mobility through those areas will help to normalize the posture over time.”
- Stand with your back up against a wall.
- Make sure your heels are touching the wall, as well as your back and head.
- Bring your arms up overhead with elbows bent at 90 degrees.
- Slowly push your arms up overhead, keeping your forearms in contact with the wall.
- Repeat 2 sets of 10 reps every other day.
Postural Correction Dr. Suzanna Wong, DC, a chiropractor and co-owner of Twin Waves Wellness Center, recommends this simple exercise to improve a dowager’s hump.
- Stand or sit in front of a mirror.
- Assess whether you are slumped forward.
- Take a deep breath in.
- Raise the top of your head towards the ceiling.
- Pull your shoulder blades back and down.
- Repeat 5 times every day.
Serratus Anterior Push-Up
Moore suggests this push-up move to flatten your back. “The serratus anterior push-up isolates the
serratus anterior, one of the main stabilizers of the shoulder,” she explains. “Strengthening the serratus anterior muscle will help to pull the shoulder blades back and take the tension off of the dowager's hump.”
- Get into a
push-up position and straighten your arms without locking your elbows.
- Carefully slide your shoulder blades inward towards each other, then outwards away from each other.
- Keep your neck neutral.
- Push through the shoulder blades, allowing them to rotate, feeling the muscles between your shoulder blades activate.
- Repeat this motion 10 times.
Mid-Fly Back Exercise
Moore also likes this exercise to strengthen and
stretch the muscles in your back. The stronger your back muscles, the easier it’ll be to keep your neck in alignment.
- Stand or sit in a chair with your feet on the floor and your back straight.
- Loop an
exercise band around both hands.
- Hold arms out in front of you with a little slack in the band.
- Relax your shoulders as you pull your arms out to the side.
- Squeeze your shoulder blades.
- Slowly return to the middle.
- Repeat 12 to 15 reps.
Thoracic Mobilization On A Ball
Grab an exercise ball: This move will help to loosen the muscles of the upper back and neck, Moore says.
- Kneel on the floor with your arms in front of you on the ball or a chair.
- Place your forehead on your arms.
- Slowly open your arms and allow your head to fall towards the floor.
- Think of the area between your shoulder blades as sagging towards the floor.
- Keep your neck neutral with no strain.
- Take a breath and feel a stretch in your upper back.
- Repeat 10 to 15 times.
Shoulder Rolls Jazmin Morris, PT, DPT, OCS, the regional director of physical therapy at SportsMed Physical Therapy, suggests shoulder rolls to help balance out a rounded forward shoulder posture.
- Raise your shoulders up.
- Roll them back.
- Squeeze your shoulder blades together.
- Continue to move your shoulders in a circular pattern, up and back.
- Repeat 10 times.
- Do 3 sets every day.
Morris also recommends doing doorway stretches to
open your chest and shoulders.
- Stand in a doorway or near a corner.
- Place both arms up on the door frame.
- Keep your arms perpendicular to the ground.
- Step one foot forward through the doorway.
- Bend your front knee until you feel a stretch in your chest and/or along your shoulders.
- Hold for 10 seconds.
- Repeat 10 times on each side once a day.
Studies referenced: Cutler, WB. (1993). Prevalence of kyphosis in a healthy sample of pre- and postmenopausal women. Am J Phys Med Rehabil. doi: 10.1097/00002060-199308000-00009. Greendale, G. (2002.) Yoga for Women With Hyperkyphosis: Results of a Pilot Study. Am J Public Health. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1447294/. Katzman, WB. (2010). Age-related hyperkyphosis: its causes, consequences, and management. J Orthop Sports Phys Ther. doi: 10.2519/jospt.2010.3099. Koelé, MC. (2020). The Clinical Relevance of Hyperkyphosis: A Narrative Review. Front Endocrinol (Lausanne). doi: 10.3389/fendo.2020.00005. Weale, R. (2012.) The Dowager's hump: an early start? Gerontology. doi: 10.1159/000329828. Sources: Kristina Kehoe, DPT, RYT, physical therapist, registered yoga teacher, board-certified clinical specialist in women’s health physical therapy with Simpli Whole Dr. Matt Tanneberg, DC, CSCS, chiropractor, owner of Body Check Chiropractic & Sports Rehabilitation Dr. Camilla Moore, DC, chiropractor, founder of Wellness Cabinet Ethan Cleary, PT, DPT, doctor of physical therapy at Orthopedic & Sports Physical Therapy Dr. Suzanna Wong, DC, chiropractor, co-owner of Twin Waves Wellness Center Jazmin Morris, PT, DPT, OCS ,, regional director of physical therapy at SportsMed Physical Therapy
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This article was originally published on
Sep. 13, 2022