A hunched back, sometimes referred to as a dowager’s hump, is primarily associated with older women, but men are just as susceptible to developing a rounded back as women. Clinically called kyphosis, curvature of the spine usually happens slowly over the years as a culmination of poor posture and constant bending over — for example, to look at electronic screens. The curve eventually causes you to have to lift your head to see in front of you, making it protrude forward unnaturally.
Your spine physician at the Southeastern Spine Institute prefers preventing a hunched back to treating one. Once it develops, however, you can take steps to reverse it. Follow the tips and techniques you learn from your doctor and physical therapist to straighten your spine.
What Causes a Hunched Back?
Bending over to read your phone, leaning over a computer keyboard and sitting slouched in a chair at work are the most common culprits. The reason it’s so prevalent in seniors is that mid-back muscles weaken over time. By your later years, you can’t even hold your head up straight.
Other conditions contribute to a hunched back, making it more difficult to prevent. These other, less common causes of hunchback include:
- Birth defects. Congenital problems with the spine’s formation are rare. If present, the hunchback may be present from an early age.
- Scheuermann’s kyphosis. This condition typically shows up in adolescence when the vertebrae are more wedge-shaped, rather than the healthy rectangle shape.
Osteoporosis. Low bone density often leads to compression fractures in the spine. When it happens near the top of your spinal column, it causes a curve that turns into a bump and a hunched back if not treated effectively.
Are There Steps for Preventing a Hunched Back?
The best way of preventing a hunched back is to maintain a good posture. The constant tug on your vertebrae strains your back and creates neck pain, upper back pain and fatigue, in addition to the hunchback. Besides good posture, follow tips that include:
- Get sufficient calcium and vitamin D to prevent osteoporosis. Follow your doctor’s advice if you develop low bone density.
- Practice weight-bearing exercises to strengthen your bones.
- Strengthen your upper back muscles with simple daily exercises such as chin tucks and push-ups.
- Support your entire spine with core-strengthening exercises.
- Ask your doctor about medications that decrease bone density, such as steroids, anti-depressants and other alternatives.
- Keep your muscles strong by eating sufficient protein. Adults need between 55 and 65 grams of protein a day for healthy muscle development.
- Avoid exercises that may lead to spinal fractures, such as crunches and abdominal twists.
- Cut back or stop smoking. Nicotine leaches calcium out of your bones, putting you at a higher risk of developing a hunched back.
- Stretch safely in the morning to loosen up your back so that tight back muscles don’t pull your shoulders down.
- Maintain good posture while driving by bringing the seatback up straight and moving your seat closer to the pedals.
Taking steps for preventing a hunched back not only improves your appearance, but they also serve to help you feel better throughout the day. Talk to your spine specialist at the Southeastern Spine Institute.