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Physical Therapy for Dowager’s Hump – Information, Exercises, and More

Lately, you’ve started seeing a small protrusion at the base of your neck when you catch a side glimpse of yourself in the mirror. You don’t like how it looks, and you’re wondering if it can lead to physical problems as well.

It sounds like you may be developing dowager’s hump or kyphosis.

So what is this condition and what can happen if it’s left untreated?

Keep reading to discover the causes and symptoms of dowager’s hump as well as your best treatment options.


What Is Dowager’s Hump?

Dowager’s hump — or kyphosis, as it is known in the medical community — is a rounded hunch at the base of the neck where it meets the top of your back. You may also think of it as an excessive curvature of the upper spine.

Kyphosis is called dowager’s hump because it more frequently affects the female population and is often associated with older women suffering from osteoporosis.

But dowager’s hump doesn’t just happen to seniors. One recent study found that 35% of healthy women from the ages of 20 to 64 suffered from this condition.

What Causes Dowager’s Hump?

Causes of dowager’s hump include:

  • Bad posture — People who constantly slouch or hunch over tend to experience mild forms of the condition.
  • Degenerative disc disease — Discs in the neck become smaller or compressed and are unable to support the natural curve of the spine.
  • Weak muscles — The back muscles that hold your spine in place don’t work properly if they aren’t strong enough.
  • Spinal injuries — Vertebral fractures increase your risk of developing kyphosis.
  • Osteoporosis — Weak, brittle bones lead to the stooped posture associated with a dowager’s hump.
  • Aging — The curve of the spine naturally increases as we get older.
  • Congenital defects — Those born with Scheuermann’s kyphosis have more triangular-shaped vertebrae, which leads to increased spinal curvature. 


Dowager’s Hump Symptoms

Kyphosis can lead to symptoms in several systems of the body. Let’s look at the different ways a dowager’s hump may affect you.

Musculoskeletal Symptoms of Dowager’s Hump

Dowager’s hump can severely limit your physical activity and the way your body functions. Some musculoskeletal symptoms of this condition are:

  • Postural changes
  • Increased muscle fatigue
  • Chronic neck, shoulder, and back pain
  • Vertebral compression fractures
  • Loss of height
  • Protruding abdomen
  • Back stiffness
  • Hip pain
  • Numbness in the chest area
  • Poorer balance
  • Slower gait
  • Increased risk of falls

Depending on the severity of your symptoms, you may find that you have difficulty performing everyday activities. Even things like walking, driving, or getting up from a chair can be harder to do.


Digestive Symptoms of Dowager’s Hump

As dowager’s hump progresses and becomes more severe, it can compress the digestive tract. This may lead to acid reflux or difficulty swallowing.

Respiratory Symptoms of Dowager’s Hump

Kyphosis may cause you to experience difficulty breathing because of the added pressure it puts on your lungs.

Psychological Symptoms of Dowager’s Hump

Mild kyphosis may not be very noticeable, but as the condition advances it changes your appearance and can even be disfiguring. 

Younger people who suffer from the condition may be especially sensitive to body image issues, which can lead to feelings of shame and anxiety. Seniors with dowager’s hump may feel isolated and depressed because of their humps.

Dowager’s Hump Treatment

There is a wide range of treatment options for kyphosis, and what will work best for each person depends on the severity of their condition. The sooner you treat it, the better your chances are of stopping it in its tracks. 

Contact your doctor or physical therapist as soon as possible to start a treatment plan that will help you.

Possible treatments for dowager’s hump include:

  • Ergonomics and attention to good posture
  • Regular exercise to strengthen your muscles and yoga to increase flexibility
  • Treating underlying conditions to prevent symptoms from getting worse
  • Over-the-counter or prescription pain relief
  • Using a back brace to prevent the curve from worsening
  • Surgery to reduce the curve of the spine
  • Physical therapy

Dowager’s Hump Physical Therapy – Will PT Help?

Yes! Studies have shown that physical therapy can slow the progression and improve symptoms of dowager’s hump.

Best Dowager’s Hump Exercises

Physical therapy is a great way to treat kyphosis and can be used in lieu of or in addition to medication and surgery. Here are some of our favorite exercises and stretches to combat the effects of dowager’s hump.

#1: Chin Tucks

These will help strengthen the muscles at the front of your neck, leading to better support.

  • Put two fingers at the bottom of your chin.
  • Gently tuck your chin and move your head backward. Use your fingers to make sure your chin is tucked the whole time.
  • Hold this position for 3 to 5 seconds.
  • Relax and let your neck come forward naturally.
  • Repeat. Work up to 2 to 3 sets of 10 repetitions.

This exercise should make you feel like the back of your neck is getting longer.

#2: Doorway Pectoral Stretch

This will stretch out chest muscles that have been tightened due to poor posture.

  • Stand in a doorway and put your arms against the frame at a 90-degree angle.
  • Lean out through the doorway until you feel a stretch across the front of your chest and shoulders.
  • Hold the stretch for 20 to 30 seconds.
  • Rest and repeat.
  • If this stretch feels too easy, move your arms higher up on the door frame. If it’s uncomfortable, place your arms below shoulder level before beginning.

#3: Upper Back Stretch

This helps loosen the muscles.

  • Face the wall and put your hands flat against it over your head.
  • Sink down into the stretch, being careful to keep your neck neutral and not let your head drop.
  • Hold for 10 to 20 seconds, then sink even further into the stretch.
  • If this hurts your shoulders, place your hands lower on the wall before stretching.

How In Motion O.C. Can Help With Dowager’s Hump

The physical therapists at In Motion O.C. don’t want you to suffer from the stigma and pain associated with dowager’s hump. We’ve helped many people who are going through the same thing you are.

We’ll evaluate your case and devise a custom program of exercises and stretches to help you find relief from kyphosis.

Yelp users have rated us as the #1 physical therapists in the country for a reason. Check out the reviews and testimonials on our site and request a free screening today.


The content in this blog should not be used in place of direct medical advice/treatment and is solely for informational purposes.

In Motion O.C.