“Dowager’s Hump” can affect any person who spends a lot of their time hunched over or has a severe case of osteoporosis. The professional term for Dowager’s Hump is hyperkyphosis, which is an increase in the forward curvature of the lower cervical and upper thoracic spine. It is a condition that can either be relatively painless or can cause a great amount of pain and discomfort.
Dowager’s hump is a lot more common in people with osteoporosis and is usually due to what is called a wedge fracture. This happens when the front part of the vertebra (the side facing your chest) collapses. This causes the vertebra to tilt forward, which forces the back to curve and the head to stick out in a forward direction. In some cases the curvature is so severe that it forces the head to look downward. It can turn into a domino effect, with the collapsed vertebra tilting and putting pressure on the one below, causing them too also fracture and tilt. In advanced osteoporosis, the bones of the vertebrae can become so porous that they can fracture as a result of simple tasks, such as lifting something or coughing and sneezing.
A wedge fracture does not necessarily cause the person pain, and the first signs can be a loss in height or an obvious rounding of the upper back. Other people generally tend to see it before the person suffering from the disorder, as we do not usually view ourselves from the side. A person with hyperkyphosis can also experience neck pain, breathing difficulties, rib pain and loss of appetite. Symptoms can get worse when coughing or sneezing and may be relieved when lying down.
Those people suffering with mild cases of hyperkyphosis may be able to find some relief by participating in yoga. A study published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society showed that elderly women with Dowager’s Hump who participated in yoga classes three times a week for six months, had a reduction in the curvature of their spine. In some cases where Dowager’s Hump is more severe and is causing a lot more pain, there are more invasive treatments available. The surgical treatments vertebroplasty and kyphoplasty consists of an injection of cement into the vertebrae to restore and regain their height, reduce their pain and restore their proper spinal curvature.
Prevention is the Best Form of Treatment
The most desirable treatment is prevention, this involves the strengthening of the bones as much as possible and preventing the loss of bone by eating a healthy diet and trying to achieve the minimum requirement of regular weight-bearing exercise (30 minutes a day, 5 times a week). Maintaining the correct posture is also very important, as habitual slumping eventually causes imbalances of the muscles, and the muscles and ligaments that support the spinal column are weakened, putting additional pressure on the vertebrae, which allows them to slip out of place. Regular chiropractic adjustments can help to keep the vertebrae aligned, along with regular exercise to strengthen the supporting muscles.
Dr. Connor McCormick