Have you ever been told that you are standing improperly, and see that there is a hump forming at the upper back or neck? This may be due to hyperkyphosis in the thoracic spine, also known as dowager’s hump.
In a typical spine, the natural curvature of the spine is from 20 to 40 degrees. Thoracic hyperkyphosis is an excessive curvature of the thoracic spine greater than 40 degrees. There is a natural age-related hyperkyphosis as decreased bone density and passive compressive forces causes the thoracic curve to increase over time, especially for women and those with osteoporosis. Studies have reported an increase of about 9 degrees per decade for hyperkyphosis. What is more concerning in this age is postural hyperkyphosis, causes the excessive bending of head and back due to cellphones and office jobs.
Aside from the visual effect of hyperkyphosis causing a “hunchback” or “dowager’s neck”, thoracic hyperkyphosis also causes other less noticeable symptoms. These include change in alignment over time, restricted spinal range of motion, and chronic back pain due to compensatory muscles and weakness. In more severe cases, hyperkyphosis can cause loss of balance, difficulty breathing, or osteoporotic fractures. Treatment of hyperkyphosis should include introducing more mobility and flexibility in the spine through stretching and mobilization exercises, postural correction through strengthening the spinal muscles, and treatment of any of the pains and symptoms associated with hyperkyphosis.