Humpback: It’s Not Just for Witches

humpbackHumpback or Dowager’s Hump.  Perhaps you have it or know someone who does.  It’s that hump that you see on older people, mainly women, where the head if forward and their upper spines take a nasty curve. If you’re young enough, the only Dowager’s hump you may have seen is on the evil witch in Hansel and Gretel.  If you’ve been around a while, you’ve seen it on your grandmother or mother or their friends.
The hump is called kyphosis or the forward rounding of the back.  Some rounding is normal, of course, but the exaggerated rounding is considered kyphosis.  The kyphosis hump and can be painful, alter lifestyles, undermine well-being and put one at a risk of dying early. The forward lean of the head results in the collapsing of the chest which results in constricted breathing which translates to shortened breath and eventually health problems. There is an increased risk of fractures in the shoulder, arm, wrist, hip and leg.
A recent article in YogaUOnline cites a recent study shows that osteoporosis is not always a cause of the hunched back. It stated that “as much as six out of ten people with hyperkyphosis or dowager’s hump don’t have osteoporosis at all”.  Although it’s extremely common in the the elderly and becoming more common in younger folks, it can be counteracted and the earlier you take steps to do so, the better.
More and more, we spend gobs of time in the “head forward” position over our phones and pads. This changes our gravitational center as the head moves forward of our body. When the head shifts forward, the shoulders follow.  Every inch the head is forward adds 10 pounds to the weight of the head. With just 3 inches of forward tilt, the head can weigh as much as 45 pounds. Over time. . . well, you can image.

What can be done?  You guessed it–yoga.  Besides the fancy poses, impressive push-ups and overpriced spandex, yoga emphasizes posture. The very basic yoga pose, Mountain pose, is the most important. If you learn nothing else in your yoga classes, master standing tall, with head over shoulder, shoulders over hips and hips over heels. Breath. Really, that’s it, Mountain pose.

In addition to good posture, yoga keeps the back strong. Yoga positions open the chest, which counters the tight muscles that can result from the head and shoulder forward position.  If you’d been to one of my classes, we typically start class on our backs with a blanket or block under our backs. You can do this at home with a bath towel placed under the back, perpendicular to the spine at the level of the bottom of your shoulders blades. You will feel a yummy stretch across the chest and up into the throat. Maintaining a strong back and an open chest will go a long way to preventing or minimizing the hunched back.
Okay, I know It’s hard to go through life without the forward nod of the head–it’s common, normal and natural. I do it, you do it. Besides staying strong, I’m trying to get in the habit of bringing my phone up higher, maybe shoulder height, and maintaining my shoulders down and head up. If you’re in bed with your iPad or computer, prop it on a pillow, so you don’t have to look down.  And, do yoga.  Really, it will help!

See you next week.  It’s about bras!