Dowager’s Hump — How to Prevent or Correct It

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Dowager’s Hump — How to Prevent or Correct It

Many people I meet are concerned about getting more rounded and stooped over as they get older.  I know I was!

Your thoracic vertebrae (in the upper spine) have a slight forward curve naturally (a “Kyphosis”). In many people in the industrialized world, this curve can become extreme. When the extreme curve is high up in the thoracic area and into the cervical spine (neck area), it is sometimes called a “Dowager’s Hump”.

This can lead to back and neck pain, due to strain on the muscles that occurs with misaligned posture, and loss of height.  Over time, this change in bony alignment can even compromise the function of the organs, including negative effects on the circulatory system.

Plus, most people don’t like the way they look when the spine rounds forward in this way! Have you ever seen a picture of yourself and thought, “Wow! How did I get so hunched over?!” This often motivates people to make a change in their posture.

The good news is that you can change your posture at any age.  The alignments of the Balance Posture Method (aka “Spinefulness”) can help you to prevent or correct this extreme rounding.  These alignments are based on studying healthy populations of people without back and joint pain, who also stay straight into their old age.  By imitating how these people move, you can dramatically improve your posture.

Check Your Posture

The most important and surprising aspect of this shift is the fact that these healthy people do NOT tuck their pelvis in sitting, standing, or walking.  So to get started, notice how you’re sitting right now.  Are you sitting on the back of your pelvis (like your sacrum), or are you sitting on your sitz bones (“ischial tuberosities”)?  The sitz bones are the bones in your pelvis that are also sometimes called the “butt bones”, on the bottom of the pelvis.

One way to feel these bones is to sit on your hands. Feel those 2 hard bones digging into the palms of your hands? Those are the sitz bones. Those should be what you are sitting on. I know, it can be painful at first. It’s like riding a bike or a horse for the first time. It gets much easier over time, however. I guarantee it!

Stop Causing a Rounded Back

If you are sitting on the back of your pelvis instead of on the sitz bones, here’s how to correct that:

– lean forward from your hip joints (NOT your waist)

– pull your feet back slightly so they are under the chair

– place your hands on the sides of the chair seat

– lift your pelvis up off the chair and aim the FRONT of it towards the chair seat

– once you’ve touched down, you can lift up again if you aren’t all the way back in your chair, and move to the back of the chair

– then unbend from your hip joints and lean back against the chair (sitting upright)

– now you should be able to feel the sitz bones underneath you

– this works more easily if you are on a fairly firm chair with a flat seat

In standing, also check that your pelvis is not thrust forward.  This can be very deceptive.  Most people I meet think that they are leaning forward, because their head, shoulders and upper back are rounded forward.  Actually, they are leaning backward!  If you can stop this tendency to push the pelvis forward, this will also help reduce the tendency to get a hump back.  When the pelvis is forward, it causes the lower back to lean backwards, and then the upper back has to compensate by rounding forwards.

Lifting the chest by arching the back also causes excess curvature of the spine, and fatigue in the back muscles.  Once your pelvis is under you instead of in front of you, relax your back and let your chest drop.  This helps to straighten your lower spine.  There is no way to straighten the upper spine until you straighten your lower spine.

Once your lower spine starts to straighten by following these guidelines, you will stop the CAUSE of the upper back roundedness.  Without stopping the cause, strengthening exercises will not be very effective.  Then, to work with the symptom of the roundedness, you can begin to do exercises to stretch and strengthen the muscles in the upper back, shoulders, chest and neck.

One Simple Exercise

Relax your right arm to your side. Draw that shoulder back and down as you turn your arm out (so the palm faces forward). Feel your shoulder blade flattening on your back. Now do the same with your left shoulder. Hold for 30 seconds, then relax. Do this periodically throughout your day to begin to open your shoulders and reduce the pull on your upper spine.

Before you begin a program of stretching and strengthening exercises for your upper back, make sure to stop causing the problem by pushing your pelvis forward, sitting too far back on your pelvis, or lifting your chest.  Once you’ve mastered these postural shifts, strengthening exercises can make a big difference in straightening your upper spine, and you can regain height, decrease pain and look better at the same time!

© 2014 by Dana K. Davis. All Rights Reserved.

By |2018-05-30T15:30:09+00:00April 11th, 2014|Aging, Back Pain, Healthy Posture, Neck pain, Shoulders, Sitting Posture|8 Comments

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  1. Anne December 2, 2014 at 9:47 pm

    The cervical vertebrae is your upper spine not you thorasic vertebrae your T. Is your middle part and is also known as the dorsal vertebres

    • Dana D February 13, 2015 at 11:48 am

      Hi Anne,
      Yes, you could look at it that way too. I consider the upper spine to include the upper thoracic vertebrae as well as the cervical vertebrae, since that’s how most people refer to it.

  2. Margaret March 6, 2015 at 9:42 am

    I broke the li vertabrae in my back about 2 years ago , I don’t suit that much now Stand or lie , how can I help my back from hunching , maybe I’m noot helping myself by lying down as I have pillows under my head to look at TV , prob making the hump worse. Mgt

    • Dana D March 19, 2015 at 11:15 am

      Hi Margaret,
      The pillows under your head are probably fine if they aren’t pushing your head very far forward of your neck. How you can reduce hunching in your upper back is by following the guidelines in my 2 posture videos (search the blog under the category “videos” or search YouTube for “Sonoma Body Balance”. If you practice sitting and standing in that way, that can really help stop the CAUSE of the hunching. Then it’s also helpful to do some work with a foam roller on the upper spine. Hope that helps. Dana

  3. Jennifer June 10, 2015 at 4:36 pm

    I was born with a defect. Now I know it is a reversed cervical curve which is accompanied by a rather large hump. I’ve been made fun of my entire life. It is embarrassing and I wish I could just get rid of it. When I had previously lost weight and swam more often, it did go down slightly in size. However it is still very pronounced. Is there anything else you suggest?

    • Dana D June 10, 2015 at 6:47 pm

      HI Jennifer,
      If you attend to your posture and practice Balanced alignment, that should help your entire spine. It’s essential that you sit on your sitz bones, because if your pelvis is rocking backward so that your low back rounds out, then that creates a negative effect on your entire spine. If the spine is less stressed due to healthy posture, then some of the reverse curve may straighten out. We do see that the healthiest people in other cultures have a fairly straight cervical spine, not a very curved one, so you don’t need to make your neck go the other direction to have it be healthy. Hope that helps, Dana

  4. Christine Scheiner June 20, 2015 at 11:21 am

    I have a question I am 62 years old and have Osteoporsis in my hip and spine. I was taking Fosamax but started to have bad side effects after taking it for 1 1/2 years Now I am taking Boniva and I was told that I have dowagers hump I thought Boniva is supposed to help avoid having that I want to know if there are any exercises to improve it and stop it from getting worse.

    • Dana D June 29, 2015 at 7:46 pm

      Hi Christine,
      No drug will help prevent Dowager’s Hump due to poor posture. You have to change your posture to change the Dowager’s Hump. In the articles on my blog, and in my Pain-Free Sitting video, you can find out how to practice healthy posture and stop aggravating the condition. When your pelvis is too far forward, it makes it worse. Then you can do work with a foam roller (gently) to help straighten and elongate your upper spine. I hope to create a video on doing that very soon!
      Hope that helps, Dana

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