A little rounding of the back is normal, but excessive curvature of the upper back, called kyphosis, is not. The causes of a rounded back are numerous, from malformation of the spine in children to osteoporosis in older women.
In many cases kyphosis has few symptoms, but some people may experience mild back pain, fatigue and stiffness. The disfigurement and shortened stature that kyphosis leads to, however, can affect your self-confidence.
A study published in 2009 in Osteoporosis International found that spinal extension exercises performed three times a week for one year halted progression of and improved back stooping among older female participants. Stretches to lengthen tight chest muscles can also help you stand tall again.
Scapular Wall Slides
This exercise activates your thoracic spine and improves mobility. You can also use it as a test to measure your progress.
How to do it:
- Stand with your back against a wall and your feet a few inches from the wall.
- Press your back into the wall and bend your knees slightly. Keep your lower back pressed into the wall throughout the exercise.
- Bend your elbows and place your arms against the wall, palms facing out.
- Contract your core muscles and begin to slide your hands up the wall. Slide them up as far as possible without allowing your lower back to arch off the wall. The extension should come from your upper back, not your lower back.
- Slide your hands back down to your starting position. Repeat the exercise, trying to slide your hands a bit higher each time.
Scapular Band Flyes
Scapular band flyes strengthen the upper back and improve scapular mobility, which is crucial for correcting a rounded posture. Choose a band with enough resistance to make the exercise challenging, but not so much that you have to shrug your shoulders or bend your arms.
How to do it:
- Hold a resistance band in both hands with your arms extended in front of your chest and your hands about shoulder-width apart.
- Relax your neck and shoulders as you pull on the band, opening your arms out to either side. Squeeze your shoulder blades together as you do this. Keep your arms straight and do not shrug your shoulders.
- Hold for a second or two with your arms open, then slowly bring your arms back to the starting position.
- Repeat the exercise, opening your arms a bit wider each time to get a slight stretch across your chest.
Opposite-Arm Opposite-Leg Extension and Cobras
This exercise builds strength in the entire back and activates spinal extension. Combine it with cobras to improve thoracic extension and strengthen upper erector spinae muscles along the spine, the rhomboids and middle trapezius muscles.
How to do it:
- Lie on your stomach on an exercise mat with legs and arms fully extended in opposite directions.
- Pull your shoulder blades together as you slowly lift your right arm and your left leg off the ground. Hold for a second and return to the starting position with control.
- Pull your shoulder blades together and slowly lift your left arm and right leg off the ground. Hold for a second and release with control.
- Bend your elbows and place your hands on the floor underneath your shoulders next to your upper chest. Point your elbows up to the ceiling.
- Squeeze your shoulder blades together, and using very little strength in your arms lift your chest off the ground.
- Hold for a second then return with control to your starting position.
- Repeat all three parts of the exercise.
Doorway Chest Stretch
Tight chest muscles can pull the shoulders forward, increasing the appearance of a rounded back. Perform chest stretches at least a few times a week, especially after performing chest-strengthening exercises.
How to do it:
- Stand in a normal-sized door way. Raise both arms with elbows bent to 90 degrees and upper arms parallel to the floor.
- Place your your forearms against the door frame and step one foot out in front of you.
- Push your body through the doorway opening until you feel a stretch through your chest. Hold for 10 seconds and release. Repeat three times.
Read more: Exercises to Keep the Shoulders Pulled Back