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Reversing Dowager’s Hump: 6 Beneficial Stretches

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  • Post last modified:September 25, 2023

Technology is beneficial, but there’s no denying that it has its drawbacks. Spending excessive time scrolling through social media is not only linked to sleep problems and an increased feeling of isolation, but also spinal issues. Have you ever heard of “dowager’s hump”?

The term refers to a curvature of the upper spine most commonly caused by chronic forward leaning, according to the Cleveland Clinic. (“Dowager” refers to a widow who owns property that belonged to her late husband, though the concern can affect anyone, regardless of their gender.) The problem can become painful, but the positive news is that dowager’s hump caused by poor posture is both reversible and preventable, according to Ahmad Nassr, M.D., an orthopedic spine surgeon at the Mayo Clinic.

Ahead, discover more about dowager’s hump and exercises that can combat the issue if it’s causing you discomfort, pain, or insecurity.

What Is Dowager’s Hump?

Dowager’s hump is a colloquial term that’s medically referred to as “excessive thoracic kyphosis,” a rounded hunch that forms at the base of your neck, says Dr. Nassr. (Refresher: Your spine is composed of three sections: your cervical spine, located above the base of your neck, your thoracic spine, which runs from the base of your neck to your abdomen, and your lumbar spine, spanning your lower back.) “While we all have some rounding of the thoracic spine (mid-back), excessive thoracic kyphosis can appear abnormal and may be related to pain,” says Dr. Nassr.

Several causes can lead to dowager’s hump, including irreversible conditions, such as Scheuermann’s kyphosis, which is when your spine becomes excessively rounded since your vertebrae are wedge-shaped and not rectangular, or congenital issues, i.e. when your spine doesn’t form correctly before birth, explains Dr. Nassr. The most common cause of dowager’s hump, though, is regularly practicing poor posture, for example, when looking down at your computer or phone screen for hours at a time.

The development of a dowager’s hump due to poor posture is usually slow and gradual. Incorrect posture contributes to the weakening of your upper back muscles, which are responsible for supporting your upper spine, according to the Cleveland Clinic.

Exercises for Kyphosis Correction

When it comes to eliminating kyphosis caused by poor posture, specific movements can be beneficial. “Workouts that strengthen the muscles in the back are crucial in attempting to enhance the appearance and alignment of the spine,” says Dr. Nassr. Below, take a look at six exercises you can perform daily to help improve your posture and counteract kyphosis.

Neck Retractions

“Neck retractions can assist in aligning the cervical spine properly with the thoracic spine (also known as the upper part of the spine), thereby enhancing posture and neck strength,” says Kelyssa Hall C.S.C.S, C.E.A.S, an exercise physiologist at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York.

A. Commence in a seated position with feet flat on the floor.

B. Retract your neck straight back as if creating a double chin and maintain for five seconds, then return to the starting position.

Do 10 repetitions.

Cervical Extension Stretch

To enhance mobility throughout your spine, which aids in alignment, rely on this stretch, says Hall.

A. Commence in a seated position with feet flat on the floor. Retract your neck straight back as if creating a double chin.

B. Tilt your head upward and maintain for five seconds.

C. Return to the starting position, looking straight ahead.

Do 10 repetitions.

Shoulder Blade Retractions

Shoulder blade retractions are an exercise that concentrates on opening up your shoulders and chest. This helps “relax your shoulders and reduce roundness for improved posture,” says Hall.

A. Commence in a seated position with feet flat on the floor.

B. Squeeze your shoulder blades together and maintain for five seconds. Avoid shrugging your shoulders or arching your lower back.

Do 10 repetitions.

Thoracic Extension

“Thoracic extension is beneficial for enhancing mobility in the chest and shoulders, upper back mobility, and overall spine alignment for better posture,” says Hall.

A. Sit in a chair with feet flat on the floor and your back supported by the chair’s backrest. Place hands behind your head to support your neck.

B. Engage your core muscles and arch your upper back over the top of the chair while looking upward. Maintain this position for five seconds. Avoid arching your lower back during the stretch.

Do 10 repetitions.

Wall Angels

“Wall angels can aid in improving spine alignment while strengthening the shoulder muscles and the muscles that support the lower body,” says Hall.

A. Begin in a standing position with your back against a wall and arms at your sides with palms facing forward so that the backs of your hands are against the wall.

Ensure that the cranium, clavicles, posterior, and lumbar region are in contact with the vertical surface and the lower extremities are positioned approximately three inches away from the wall with a slight flexion in the knees.

C. Gradually elevate arms over head as much as possible, while actively engaging the core and pulling the belly button towards the spine. When raising the arms, ensure that the head, shoulders, buttocks, and lower back maintain contact with the wall.

D. Lower the arms back down to the starting position.

Perform 10 repetitions.

Banded T’s

If you’re seeking an additional challenge and desire to incorporate some resistance into your stretches, consider attempting banded T’s, as recommended by Winnie Yu, P.T, D.P.T, C.P.T., a physical therapist at Bespoke Treatments. Banded T’s are one of Yu’s preferred exercises for enhancing the strength and mobility of the upper back. She states, “[This] exercise aids in fortifying the muscles in the posterior region to promote a more upright posture, reduce the tendency of the upper back to hunch forward, and prevent shoulder rounding.”

A. Grasp a resistance band with both hands at each end.

B. Elevate the hands up and out in front of the chest while maintaining a straight position with the resistance band, avoiding any tension.

C. Slowly pull the hands away from each other, generating tension on the band, while simultaneously squeezing the shoulder blades together.

D. Release the tension by bringing the hands back in front of the chest and returning to a neutral position.

Perform 10 repetitions.

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