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How to Avoid a Humpback

Sep 2008

Written by Dr. Daniel Carlson

Decades of slouching cannot be reversed overnight-
therefore, prevention is always a person's best bet

Hyperkyphosis is a postural distortion marked by a rounded upper and middle back, often referred to as a "humpback." This condition makes simply looking straight ahead or lying on your back painful. The worst part is that, due to the modern tendency for people to sit in front of computers, TVs and video games for hours and hours each day, any of us can acquire this appearance.

While certain conditions of the spine can cause hyperkyphosis, more often poor posture is the cause. And despite the stereotype of the frail, elderly woman with a "dowager's hump," more men than women suffer from hyperkyphosis.

Having a rounded back
is much more than a cosmetic concern. Pain stemming from the mid-back is typically sharp and intense and can extend on either side of the torso and even cause numbness or tingling in the arms. Mid-back pain may seem to extend straight through to the chest, mimicking the sensations that a heart or lung condition can trigger. In addition to pain stemming from the mid-back, hyperkyphosis can also create pain in the neck and lower back.

No one wants a humpback; it's associated with middle and upper back pain, neck pain, headache, arm numbness and tingling, lower back stress and other ailments. But today's lifestyles make it likely that you'll develop a rounded back. What can you do? Preventing the condition altogether is ideal, but any effort toward correcting bad posture is better than submitting to the effects of gravity, computers, TVs and video games. Decades of slouching cannot be reversed overnight; often, the best strategy is to simply "straighten up" when you catch yourself succumbing to gravity. Humans are hardwired to be erect and upright. New postural habits can be formed-and hopefully will become second nature.

Here are some suggestions for maintaining a straight back:

Keep bones strong

Quit smoking and drink moderately if at all. Both tobacco and alcohol are associated with osteoporosis.

Try weight-bearing exercises. Aim for three to five sessions per week, 30 minutes each. Bone is a living tissue and must be mechanically stressed to maintain its strength. Walking, running, cycling and weight-lifting can strengthen bones.

Take bone density supplements Experts recommend calcium (1,000 to 1,500 milligrams daily), magnesium (500 to 1,000 mg daily) and vitamin D (400 to 800 IU* daily) supplements.

Consider bone density medication. Several new prescription drugs have been developed to maintain bone strength. Examples are selective estrogen receptor modulators (such as Evista), biphosphonates (such as Fosamax) and synthetic parathyroid hormone (such as Forteo).

Keep your torso strong and mobile

Strengthen your back. To prevent injury, seek supervision from a physical therapist or personal trainer while performing back exercises.

Improve your chest and mid-back mobility. Even the strongest mid-back muscles will not help reduce a round back if the spine and chest are tight and restricted. You can stretch your back and chest by lying on a therapy ball or foam roller. Or, stretch your chest by placing your forearms on either side of a door frame and leaning forward.

Adopt an ergonomic lifestyle
Adjust your computer monitor so the top of the screen is at eye level.

Avoid thick pillows if you sleep on your back, and invest in a firm mattress.

Dr. Daniel Carlson is a chiropractor with the Spine Center of Williamsburg. He completed his undergraduate training at the State University of New York-Fredonia and received his doctorate at the National University of Health Sciences.