The Dowager’s hump used to be a type of posture that was only associated with elderly women. A closer look at the name only emphasizes this fact, specifically, the word ‘Dowager’ is associated with the idea of a widow or a dignified elderly woman.
However, nowadays, the Dowager’s hump is seen among young adults and even some children!
A Dowager’s hump is a lump or bump, that forms at the base of the neck where the spine has curved forward. Whilst it is natural to have a slight curve on the 7th vertebrae of the neck, someone with a Dowager’s hump will have an abnormal curve that is more pronounced.
There are a couple of reasons why a Dowager’s hump may form, but most of the Dowager’s hump that exist among young people today is a result of bad posture.
If you have a Dowager’s hump that you feel may be a result of having bad posture, then this is certainly an article you will want to read. Together we’ll look at, what a Dowager’s hump is, what causes it and how to fix it through corrective exercises.
Causes of a Dowager’s Hump
So far I’ve talked about the development of a Dowager’s hump as a result of holding the body in a bad posture. However this is not the only cause, it can also be caused by a few things other things too.
Research in the medical field shows that we can trace the cause of a Dowager’s hump to four things.
- Genetics – Some people may experience improper development of the vertebral column leading to an abnormal curvature of the spine known as kyphosis. As a result, the curvature of the spine causes a hump on the back to form. This abnormality is usually due to genetic makeup and may exist in other family members.
- Osteoporosis – An individual who has Osteoporosis may often have a Dowager’s hump. This is because their bones will be weaker and less dense than the average person. With the weakening of the bones, comes a spinal column which is more susceptible to bending and sitting in the incorrect position resulting in the formation of a hump. This kind of Dowager’s hump is usually seen in older people. A change in diet, such as incorporating more vitamin D and calcium can help prevent this from occurring.
- Compression fractures – A spine that has been damaged, deformed or collapsed in a certain way may repair itself in the position of a Dowager’s hump.
- Bad posture – Bad posture is the main reason that we are now seeing a rise in a Dowager’s hump-forming in many young people today. This is what the scope of this post seeks to address.
If you have a Dowager’s hump that has been caused by injury or a spinal defect, then you should seek a medical professional. With a proper medical assessment, a doctor or physical therapist may be able to advise if surgery is required. It would not be a good idea to try to fix these type of Dowager’s hump through the corrective exercises listed on this page.
How Bad Posture causes a Dowager’s Hump
One of the main reasons why a Dowager’s hump has become more prevalent today is due to the increasing amount of time we spend in front of a digital screen. Whenever we look down at our phones, we are pushing our heads forward and causing the upper spine to bend, this is becoming known as ‘text neck‘. The same effect occurs when you spend copious amounts of time in front of a computer screen or sitting at a desk.
The posture that results from all this screen time is what is commonly known as forward head posture.
The human body follows a simple rule; whatever position you place your body in for long periods of time, it will make changes and adapt to that position. The formation of a postural Dowager’s hump is down to your body trying to compensate for a forward head position.
The human head on average weighs 12lbs. This is quite a significant weight if you consider that it is placed on top of your spine. As long as your head is stacked neatly above the spine, the spine will have no problem dealing with this weight. However, things change if the head is pushed forward. It has been said that every inch that the head moves forward, an additional 10 lbs of pressure is added to the neck and back.
Your body will have a response to this extra weight:
- Bone thickening – The forward head will place extra stress on the base of the neck. Your body will compensate by thickening up the bone around that area by depositing more calcium there forming a bony bump. The more the stress placed on this area, the thicker the bone will need to be.
- Fatty deposit tissue – The body will continue to lay connective tissue to adapt to the new curvature of the spine. After a long time, enough tissue will collect where it begins to form a fatty hump. As far as I am aware this fatty hump cannot be corrected or lessened via corrective exercise. It is most likely the case that some form of cosmetic surgery will be required to remove the extra fat.
- Forward head posture – The more forward pressure you place on the neck, the more the head will move forward into a forward head posture.
Why Does All This Matter?
At this point, I think you already understand why someone with a Dowager’s hump will want to fix it immediately. However, I’m going to go through the main points anyway to ram it home.
- Discomfort – Having bad posture leads to aches and pains, particularly in the neck. Also, tension headaches can arise with this kind of posture. In order to avoid this, forward head posture needs to be corrected.
- It doesn’t look Great – One of the first negatives you’ll notice about having a Dowager’s hump is that it doesn’t look overly attractive. Nobody wants to have a posture where their neck begins to resemble a vulture and their head is arched forward.
- It affects Confidence – Being in a posture where your shoulders are slumped forward and your head tilted downwards will decrease your confidence. Subconsciously, your posture has an enormous effect on your mood and how you approach life. Rather than our upper body being rolled forward in a timid fashion (such as with a Dowager’s hump), we want to be standing up tall, with our shoulders back and head held high. Adopting this kind of positive minded posture will have profound effects on your life.
- Decreased Mobility – A Dowager’s hump will decrease your mobility in your neck and upper body region. Losing the ability to move your head around freely is not something you want to give up if you can help it.
- It Creates Other Posture Problems – The negative effects of a Dowager’s hump are not solely isolated to the neck and head area. Muscle imbalances will occur throughout the body as a result of the forward head posture. Typically, your Rhomboids will weaken, your chest muscles begin to tighten which will pull your shoulders forward causing them to round. The effects of the Dowager’s hump will be felt throughout the body.
- It gets Worse Over Time – Forward head posture rarely stays the same. It either gets better or becomes worse. If you aren’t actively working on correcting it, the default mode is for it to get worse. Our daily bad habits of looking at screens for long periods of time, as well as the continued strain of the forward head pressure on the neck, only cements this truth. I’m sure you have noticed this, but the Dowager’s hump is most noticeable among elderly people (for now) since it has been left uncorrected for long periods of time.
Upon viewing this list you will see the importance of correcting a Dowager’s hump. The next section will show you some corrective exercises you can do daily to address the problem.
How to Fix a Dowager’s Hump
Before attempting to correct and fix your posture, you must first make sure that it is safe to do so. In the case of the elderly, it would not be recommended to attempt any of these exercises.
In the same vein, if you feel your Dowager’s hump has developed for any other reason than bad posture, then it would be best to visit a doctor rather than look to correct it on your own.
One way to start correcting a Dowager’s hump is to apply a little pressure on the bump and then start moving the head around in its new position. You can use a sock if you only want to apply light pressure, however, you can use a massage ball if you want to be a little more aggressive.
I have tried this myself lying on the floor and using a massage ball. There were some small pops and cracks but I definitely felt relief afterwards. In fact, this is now something I try to do frequently.
Watch the videos above on how to do both versions.
1. Correcting Forward Head Posture
A big part of dealing with a Dowager’s hump is to correct the issue of forward head posture. As we’ve already seen there are certain muscle imbalances that accompany a Dowager’s hump which needs to be addressed to push the head back so it becomes neatly stacked above the spine.
We have a step by step guide on how to correct forward head posture which details the muscles that need to be addressed. If you’re feeling lazy, the video above provides a quick rundown of a daily routine you can use to fix forward head posture.
The overall process will involve removing trigger points and stretching out the neck, and also strengthening weak neck muscles.
Here’s a quick rundown of the process.
Step 1: Myofascial Release of the Neck
Someone with forward head posture will tend to have very tight neck muscles which pulls the neck forward. Therefore some people may find significant neck relief after doing some self-massage.
You’ll want to take a fairly soft massage ball and apply pressure to the neck. Gently circle the ball around to massage all around the neck. Be sure to hit the Sub-occipitals as well since these can be one of the main culprits that get tight. The video above shows how to target this muscle group
Step 2: Stretch Out the Neck
Now that you’ve loosened up the muscles it’s a good time to begin creating length in the tight neck muscles.
When stretching out the neck remember to keep the shoulders pulled down and not allow them to rise. This will help create much-needed length. I guarantee that if you’ve never stretched your neck out before, that after doing so you’ll feel great!
Step 3: Strengthen the Front Neck Muscles
If you lack strength in the deep cervical flexors of the neck, your head will move forward without resistance. By strengthening these muscles at the front of your neck, you’ll create strength to help push your head back and upright without having to consciously think about it.
There are several exercises to target these muscles such as the Wall Lean seen on this page. However, I find the lying down version of the exercise far more effective. This exercise is shown in the video above.
2. Fixing Your Shoulder Rounding
Rounding of the shoulders will almost certainly exist alongside a Dowager’s hump or forward head posture. The existence of a forward head posture in addition to rounding of the shoulders is often referred to as upper-crossed syndrome.
Trying to fix a Dowager’s hump without working on fixing your shoulder posture will only inhibit your progress and leave you stuck with upper-crossed syndrome.
You can see our in-depth post on how to fix rounded shoulders, or watch the video above. The video will give you a quick overview of what upper crossed syndrome is and a quick routine you can do daily to fix this issue.
3. Correct your Daily Posture & Changing Your Habits
A big part of straightening up your neck and correcting your posture is to make sure that you eliminate, or seek to minimise the length of time you put yourself in a forward head posture. If you do not address the root cause of your Dowager’s hump (which is putting your head in a compromised posture), then you may find that all the corrective exercises will not prove fruitful.
Here are some things you can try:
- Get a Standing desk – A standing desk should help decrease the arching of the neck and forward posture of the head which is prevalent with sitting down.
- Hold Your Phone at Eye Level – Rather than look down at your phone, hold your phone up at eye level to view it instead. This will put less pressure on the neck and help to keep your head upright more.
- Raise the level of your Screen – A monitor that is too low down will force you to look downwards. Try to raise your screen up so that your head is in a more natural alignment. If you work on a laptop the screen can be much lower down forcing you to look downwards. Consider getting an external monitor or a laptop stand to raise the level of your screen.
- Stand Up Frequently – If you find yourself sitting for long periods of time, try to stand up at least every 20 – 30 minutes. This will help break up the pattern of your muscles and body.
- Use Technology Less – Do you really need to look at your phone or sit in front of your computer so much? Can you ignore that ‘ding’ of a new message and look at your messages all in one batch every hour? If you have the option why not go out for a walk or even go out for a run? Your body will appreciate the change and you’ll feel invigorated afterwards!
These are only some ideas of how to minimise the time of looking downwards. I’m sure you can come up with some more!
Lifestyle Change & Persistence
Correcting a Dowager’s hump is not something that will happen overnight. If your Dowager’s hump is particularly pronounced, then it most likely took years for it to get like that. To reverse it will also take some time. If you’ve caught on to the fact that you are in the process of developing a Dowager’s hump early, then it will take less time to fix it.
Ultimately, a lifestyle change is required to see results. It’s unlikely that you can go on with your usual posture habits and expect to see positive changes. To have normal posture again, will require spending less time in a forward head posture, which for most of us comes from either looking down at our mobiles or spending too much time in front of our computers.
Success will also depend on being aware of when you are in a forward head posture for long periods and breaking that pattern as soon as you notice it. If you do this and adopt daily corrective exercises, then your Dowager’s hump may disappear much quicker than you thought possible.