What is a dowager’s hump?
A ‘dowager’s hump’ is the common term referring to the stooped and hunched appearance that develops in older age, particularly in women. The hump is caused when compression of the front sections of the upper vertebrae leads to an outward curvature of the upper back and slouched shoulders.
Over a period of time, this poor posture causes the formation of a fatty deposit at the base of the neck and the classic hump on the upper back. Left untreated, a dowager’s hump will lead to shoulder and neck pain, an increasingly lowered chin, and eventually, a painful degeneration of the spinal column. Although unsightly and potentially painful, the dowager’s hump is a condition that can be prevented and fixed.
Causes of a dowager’s hump
There are several possible causes. The most common is a bad posture with the head maintained in a forward position for prolonged periods of time. This can be caused by computer work or the prolonged use of smartphones.
This bad posture leads to a build-up of calcium in the upper spine area and eventually a noticeable hump. Other less common causes are long-term steroid use, for example, in asthma medication and severe osteoporosis. This leads to a lack of calcium and bone deformities that cause the spine to curve.
How to prevent a dowager’s hump from forming.
Follow these simple tips to prevent or minimize this unsightly condition:
– Increase calcium intake to 1,800 milligrams a day.
– Eat a healthy diet that is rich in fruit and vegetables.
– Get plenty of weight-bearing exercise including lifting weights, walking, and jogging. This increases bone density over time.
– Practice yoga to strengthen and stretch the neck muscles and upper spine. Yoga also helps with good posture.
– Be aware of posture and maintain an upright position especially when working on the computer or watching TV.
How to fix a dowager’s hump
If a dowager’s hump is already present, with perseverance it is possible to reduce or cure it altogether. These exercises should be incorporated into a daily routine:
1. The shoulder shrug (two sets of 10 – 15 repetitions): this strengthens the trapezius muscle that stretches across the top of the spine. Stand upright with arms hanging loosely at the side and a small dumbbell in each hand. Shrug the shoulders upwards in a smooth and steady motion, lifting them as high as possible before lowering back down again.
2. The massage ball rock (one minute per side): this helps stretch out muscles and tendons while breaking down scar tissue and adhesions that have already developed. Rest head so the massage ball is pressing on the target area then rock the head gently to the side and back again. If the ball is in the correct position, there may be some tenderness as the muscles are stretched and loosened.
3. Simple neck stretch (three repetitions): this strengthens and stretches the muscles at the back of the neck. Tuck chin in while pulling the head gently downwards. Hold for 30 seconds, relax and repeat.
4. Neck tilt: (three repetitions): This stretches and lengthens the muscles on either side of the neck. Tuck chin in and then tilt the head to the right, trying to touch the shoulder with the ear. To extend the stretch, apply gentle pressure to the left side of the head. Hold for 30 seconds, release and repeat on the opposite side.
5. Lying down chin tuck (20 repetitions): this works on the neck retractor and flexor muscles. Lie flat on the back and tuck in the chin. Push the back of the neck into the floor, holding for 10 seconds. Release and repeat.
6. Chin tuck with pressure (10 repetitions): this is a more extreme version of the previous exercise. Lie on the floor with knees bent. Tuck chin in. Place hands on the chin and apply a firm downwards pressure, holding for five seconds. Release and repeat.
7. Chin tuck against gravity (five repetitions): this also works the retractor and flexor muscles of the neck. Lie face down on the bed with head over the edge. Tuck chin in and hold for 30 seconds. Release and repeat.