Do you ever catch your reflection in the mirror or a glass door and think, “Is that me? And when did I get that hunch?” You might notice that you are stiff or stooped over when you get out of a chair or out of the car, or you might notice your shoulders are slumping when you sit or walk.
You try to stand up straight, but before you know it, you notice you’re back in the poor posture.
Besides the fact that it makes people look old, kyphosis causes several big problems:
- Low back and neck pain
- Spinal fractures
- Rounded shoulders
- Pinched nerves at the neck which can cause vertigo
- Physical compression and pressure on the lungs and heart
Keep reading to find out how to fix this common posture pattern that impacts women over 60.
The Hunch: Kyphosis with Rounded Shoulders and Forward Head
The mid and upper sections of your spine (a.k.a., thoracic spine) have a natural convex curve towards the back of the body. This normal curve is called kyphosis. It is very common, though, to see upper backs that have too much curve.
The dictionary defines kyphosis as an excessive posterior curve. Medical terminology defines hyperkyphosis as an angle of 50 degrees, and it can be measured with X-rays or other methods.
Most non-medical people would just say the upper back is hunched or humped. I call it “The Hunch” because my clients immediately understand. If you have kyphosis, it’s highly likely you have rounded shoulders and forward head as well, and it’s likely that your pelvis is no longer in neutral position.
Kyphosis is often combined with a very stiff spine, and when the spine gets stiff, the hips and shoulders can’t swing as they are meant to do. It’s because motion begets motion. Once we lose motion in one direction, we likely lose it somewhere else too.
What Causes the Hunch?
The hunch can be caused by many factors, including poor habits, sitting too much, osteoporosis, or scoliosis.
In the case of osteoporosis, the front of the vertebrae may have actually lost bone, causing the spine to tilt forward. In my experience, no matter the cause, the muscles in the front of the body have gotten tight due to overuse, and the muscles on the back of the body have gotten weak due to underuse.
Even though they may seem far away, the hunch may actually have its roots in the feet, legs, and hips. For example, my previously hunched clients often had pronated feet, tight hip flexors, and/or tight hamstrings.
Overcome the Hunch
It is very hard to stand up straight and pull your shoulders back with kyphosis. In fact, when you try to do it, of your own will, or because someone you love reminds you to do it, you will often push your hips forward to get your shoulders back.
This isn’t helpful or transformative and is difficult to sustain as you will eventually tire and feel uncomfortable. When you push your hips forward, you can also compress the lower back.
I found that instead of trying to push the upper back into alignment, it is more effective to start at the base with the feet, legs, and hips.
Make sure you are stretching your hamstrings and hip flexors. You can strengthen your feet with exercise, and in some cases, you may need to use arch supports.
The spine itself requires motion in three planes: forward and back, side to side, and rotation to each side.
We can also keep our overall flexibility and posture by moving throughout the day. Even if you are resting, change positions from sitting to lying down. When we lie on the floor, gravity can help reduce kyphosis as well.
The final step is to do gentle back strengthening exercises to strengthen evenly from the lower back to upper back and between the shoulder blades. If you do these too soon or too aggressively your low back may complain. Proceed mindfully and gradually.
It’s All Connected!
It’s definitely necessary to do the physical work needed to stretch what’s tight and strengthen what’s weak.
It’s also helpful to examine our daily habits. Are we sitting too much because we’re bored or don’t feel engaged with the world? That’s understandable, but it’s not sustainable.
Kyphosis can also develop as a form of protection. In some ways, we may be hiding from the world, or trying to look small so as not to attract attention.
We may feel burdened and that our load is so heavy that it is bending us forward. Your kyphosis may be purely physical, but I find it helpful to reflect on these questions and see if there is any additional light to shed on the problem.
If you’d like some personalized help with posture, please visit www.choosejoyfulhealth.com and contact Joan for a complimentary consultation.
How do you feel about your posture? Do you have the hunch or did you have it? What are you doing, and what have you done to improve your posture? Please use the comments below to share with our community!