Dowager's hump is a more informal term used to describe a medical condition of the back called kyphosis. Kyphosis is a type of scoliosis that is characterized by a roundness of your spine--curving in a C-shape. The severity of the condition and the spinal flexibility you sustain depends on the type of kyphosis you have. Postural kyphosis is generally less serious than Scheuermann's kyphosis, which can lead to less mobility and significant deformity, according to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, or AAOS. Core-strengthening exercises can be beneficial to people who have a dowager's hump, under the supervision of their doctor.
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The AAOS explains that some people who have postural kyphosis may benefit from pain relief by strengthening their abdominal muscles. Exercises like the abdominal press may provide some amount of correction to a dowager's hump over time, but the AAOS reports that significant changes are not likely.
Lie down on your back with your feet flat on your feet and your knees bent. Your back should be in a relaxed, neutral position. MayoClinic.com reminds you not to arch your back nor press into the floor during this exercise. Tighten your stomach muscles, and raise one of your legs so that the ankle of your raised leg is approximately level with your other knee. Place your hand on the knee of your raised leg, and press down on your knee. Keep your abdominals tensed, and use this tension to resist the pressure of your hand, to keep your raised knee in place and steady. Hold the position for three seconds before relaxing.
According to the March 2009 issue of "Osteoporosis International," back extension exercises may be able to halt the progression of a dowager's hump and may reverse the curvature. Women ranging in age from 30 to well into their 70s were asked to do spinal exercises three times weekly for 12 consecutive months. The degree of curve was measured after a year; the participants who did the back extensions displayed smaller degrees of curving than the control group of women who had kyphosis and did not perform extensions.
Rice University explains that back extensions can be done on a bench or short table. Lie on your stomach on the table, hooking your feet around the end of the table to stabilize yourself. Clasp your hands behind your neck with your elbows out, and lie so your waist and upper body hangs off the table. Bend down so that your upper body forms a 90-degree angle with your legs. You'll essentially be upside down with your head at the floor. Slowly bend yourself back up so that your entire body is once again horizontal.
The bridge is another core-strengthening exercise that helps your back and abdominal muscles, and can be done at home without any specific exercise equipment.
MayoClinic.com describes the bridge as an exercise that starts in a neutral position while you lie on your back. You should not arch your back nor press it to the floor. Tighten your stomach muscles and lift your hips off the floor. Keep your feet and shoulders flat on the floor. Hold the position for a count of 3, and relax.
Lunges strengthen the hamstring muscles in your legs, which according to the AAOS, may also be beneficial to people with kyphosis, but like core exercises, may offer more pain relief than structural changes. The American Council on Exercise suggests forward lunges as a stretch that works not only the hamstrings, but muscles in the stomach and buttocks as well.
Stand up straight with your feet together. Your back should be tensed, or braced to prepare for the stretch. Take a step forward with one leg, stepping down with your heel before your toe. Both of your knees should be bent at 90-degree angles; your leading foot should be flat on the floor, and your hind foot's heel should point in the air with your toes on the floor. Your hips will tilt down slightly. Complete the lunge by pushing off from the floor with your front foot to return to a standing position.
The quadruped is a core exercise that is performed while on your hands and knees, as if you were going to crawl. This posture stretches your spine, similar to a spinal extension and also strengthens your abdominal muscles.
Keep your hands on the floor so that they are directly underneath your shoulders. Your back and shoulders should be as straight as possible; your head should be down so that you are facing the floor. Take one hand off the floor and reach in front of you with your arm straight. At the same time, extend your opposite leg straight out behind you. If you're using your right arm, extend your left leg. Tighten your stomach muscles as you lift your limbs. Hold for a count of 3, return your arm and leg to your original position. Repeat the stretch, using your other arm and leg.
- MayoClinic.com: Slideshow: Core Exercises
- Rice University: Back Extensions
- "Osteoporosis International"; Spinal Extension Exercises Prevent Natural Progression of Kyphosis; J.M. Ball, et al; March 2009.
- American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons: Kyphosis (Roundback) of the Spine
- Medline Plus: Compression Fractures of the Spine