Just a quick glance around the average classroom or office is typically all you need to find someone with kyphotic posture. Kyphosis, which refers to excessive rounding or curvature of the upper portion of the spine, can lead to a hunched over posture and may occur at any age.
While some cases of kyphosis are actually caused by osteoporosis or other spinal abnormalities, in many cases this rounded posture can be fixed with the proper mix of stretching and strengthening. Try kyphosis exercises to target your postural muscles and to assist you in standing up taller.
Strengthening the scapular (shoulder blade) and spinal muscles can help reverse a kyphotic spine.
1. Do Standing Rows
According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, the standing row exercise is effective at targeting the middle and lower trapezius. These muscles help bring together (retract) and lower (depress) your shoulder blades, combating the development of kyphosis.
- Secure a resistance band around the back of a doorknob and close the door so it is firmly held.
- Holding one end of the band in each of your hands, stand a few steps away from the door so the band is taut.
- Simultaneously pull each end backward as you bend your elbows and squeeze your shoulder blades together. The motion should mimic the movement of rowing the oars of a boat.
- Hold the squeeze for a second or two before returning to the starting position, and be sure not to shrug your shoulders upward as you complete the motion.
- Complete three sets of eight repetitions of these rows up to three times each week.
2. Stretch Out Your Pecs
While weakness in your shoulder blade muscles can play a role in the development of kyphosis, a lack of flexibility may also be the culprit. According to a May 2013 review published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, tightness in the pectoralis minor (the chest muscle that inserts into the front of your shoulder) can lead to rounding or protraction of the shoulder blades.
The following pec stretch can help improve flexibility in this important postural muscle.
- Stand in the middle of a doorway with your palms facing forward and your arms extended out to the sides and slightly below shoulder level.
- With your palms contacting each side of the door frame, slowly lean forward until you feel a low- to moderate-level pull in the front of your shoulders or chest.
- Hold this stretch for 30 seconds before relaxing; Complete three repetitions several times each day.
3. Try Some Prone Ts
As mentioned, the middle and lower trapezius are important postural muscles. The American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons found that the prone T exercise (also known as prone horizontal abduction) is an effective way to strengthen this area using only a bed and a hand weight.
- Lie on your stomach with your arm hanging off the edge of a bed or table.
- Begin by bringing your shoulder blade down and back without tensing your neck muscles.
- Keeping your scapula set, raise your arm out to the side until it is parallel to the floor and your palm is facing straight downward.
- Hold this position for a second before lowering back down again. Perform three sets of eight repetitions on each side up to three times per week.
Begin by doing the exercise without any hand weights. When it becomes easy, increase the weight in 1- to 2-pound increments to make it more challenging.
4. Add Chin Tucks
While chin tucks don't directly affect your middle (thoracic) spine, they target other muscles in the neck that tend to be weak in individuals with a humped-back posture. According to the Cleveland Clinic, this exercise helps strengthen these muscles (called the deep cervical flexors) and can aid in reversing the forward head posture that often accompanies a hunched back.
- Sit in a chair and face a mirror.
- Place a finger to your chin. Without moving the finger, retract your neck and chin backward away from the finger. If you are completing the motion correctly, it will look like you are giving yourself a double chin.
- Hold this position for a second or two before relaxing. Try to do three sets of 10 chin tucks each day
Be sure not to shrug your shoulders upward toward your ears or lean your body backward as you complete this exercise
5. Act Like Superman
In addition to the shoulder blade muscles, tiny muscles that line each side of your spine can also contribute to improved posture. These structures, called your erector spinae, help extend your back and prevent kyphosis. According to the Mayo Clinic, the superman exercise is an effective way to target these spinal muscles.
- Lie on your stomach on the ground with a towel rolled under your forehead and both arms extended over your head.
- Begin by lifting your right arm and your left leg in the air without lifting your head off of the towel.
- When you are unable to raise the arm and leg any higher, hold the position for about three seconds before lowering them back to the floor. Repeat the movement with the other arm and leg.
- Continue to alternate between sides until you have completed 10 repetitions on each. Again, attempt to do three sets of the superman exercise up to three times each week.
If Kyphosis Exercises Fail
While a January 2014 systematic review published in the Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation found that kyphosis exercises may provide some benefit in people with poor posture, this may not always be the case. Because some cases of kyphosis are actually caused by spinal abnormalities or weakness in the spinal bones themselves, strengthening and stretching may not always work.
If your kyphosis seems to be worsening or you are experiencing numbness, tingling, pain or weakness in your spine, arms or legs, it's important to speak to your doctor. Further testing may be necessary to diagnose the cause of your condition and other interventions like bracing or surgery (in rarer cases) may be necessary to properly treat it.
- Mayo Clinic: "Kyphosis"
- British Journal of Sports Medicine: "Rehabilitation of Scapular Dyskinesis: From the Office Worker to the Elite Overhead Athlete"
- Cleveland Clinic: "How You Can Fix a Dowager’s Hump + Prevention Tips"
- Mayo Clinic: "Core Strength Exercises"
- Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation: "Exercise for Improving Age-Related Hyperkyphotic Posture: A Systematic Review"
- American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons: "Kyphosis (Roundback) of the Spine"
- American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons: "Rotator Cuff and Shoulder Conditioning Program"