Dowager’s hump—I love the sound of it for some reason. A dowager is a widow who owns her deceased husbands property. Dowager’s hump is the name given to an extremely rounded upper back (thoracic spine). Many people ascribe the cause of a dowager’s hump to osteoporosis which is a bone disorder due to a loss of bone mass and density. People with osteoporosis have an increased risk of fractures among other things. And micro fractures of the upper spine can easily lead to the abnormal rounding referred to as dowager’s hump.
Kyphosis is the normal outward rounding of the upper back just as lordosis is the normal inward curve of the lower back. Unfortunately both of these terms have come to be associated with a negative connotation. They are only bad when the curves are greater than normal. In the same way that scoliosis can be measured in terms of the degree in the bend of the spine from side to side, a normal kyphosis becomes excessive past a certain degree of curve from front to back. Dowager’s hump is merely a dramatic name for excessively kyphotic upper back.
So whether we call it dowager’s hump or an excessive kyphosis it is important to figure out a way to finding better alignment for our spine. Osteoporosis afflicts so many people, mostly women of a certain age, and studies (Particularly the work of Dr. Loren Fishman) have shown that a daily yoga practice can increase bone density. But osteoporosis isn’t the only way to get a dowager’s hump.
An excessive kyphosis is also a sign of a poorly aligned pelvis and imbalanced or weak abdominal muscles. I am proof positive of this assertion. I have always had a very rounded upper back that only became manageable when i changed my posture for the better and built a very solid bunch of core muscles. Even so, if you look at me from the side, my upper back still rounds a bit too much forcing my head forward. I can bring the head back in line which gives the appearance of decreasing my dowagers hump but not by much and it takes a lot of effort to do it.
Change is possible for anyone. If you want to change your posture you can. If you want to build new or different muscle tone you can. It is not necessarily easy but it is not brain surgery either; it is merely pavlovian repetition that takes longer for some than others but is available to everyone.
But it takes a plan. You need to honestly assess your posture (easier said than done), and then devise a series of exercises to obsess on for a while as you bring change to a stubborn body, and some bodies are more stubborn than others. And you should probably learn how to walk correctly.
Yesterday’s exercise to develop the rhomboids is one way to begin to bring change to the upper back and in the next week or so I will provide some additional exercises. Changing the body doesn’t happen through osmosis—it takes time, energy and dedication. I honestly can’t believe the changes I have brought to my own structure but I am not kidding when I say that it has been a fifteen year process and counting…