Smile at the wrinkles and enjoy the movie discounts. Savor the bargain omelets at IHOP. Love the grandkids and grin with relief as you hand them back. Maturing has many perks… and many pitfalls. One health hazard that MUST be prevented, reduced, or corrected is the HUMP often seen on the upper back and neck. Besides the unwanted hunched-over physical appearance, the hump can cause serious health implications… it may even shorten one’s lifespan!
The hump is actually an increased curve of the upper back (hyperkyphotic posture), forward displacement of the head carriage, and a typical loss of the normal arc of the neck (hypolordosis). It is found in all ages, including children. I have found in many patients that this hump often contributes to conditions such as arm and hand pain, tingling or numbness, headaches, shoulder or neck pain, or disc problems in the neck and lower back pain. The forward shift of the body weight can also place undue stress on the knees, ankles, and feet.
Although the symptoms of a hump pattern act as a helpful alarm, the visual appearance of even a minor rounding posture, without symptoms, should be acted upon promptly. This is one potential giant you do not want to leave sleeping!
Understanding the sheer importance of proper spinal alignment and posture has been the core of the chiropractic sciences. Our society needs to expand its view of a patient’s health status which is now based primarily on biochemical reactions and blood test results. Body structure and alignment also have a significant effect on our physiology.
Poor posture and loss of proper alignment contribute to diseases beyond the joints and muscles.
According to the American Journal of Pain Management:
Posture affects and moderates every physiologic function from breathing to hormonal production. Spinal pain, headache, mood, blood pressure, pulse, and lung capacity are among the functions most easily influenced by posture.
Research published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society in 2004 revealed that:
People with a hyperkyphotic posture had an increased rate of death due to atherosclerosis (clogging of the arteries due to fatty plaque formations).
A more recent study published in 2009 in the Annals of Internal Medicine concluded that:
For older women, hyperkyphosis predicts an increased risk of a shortened lifespan.
The first step to improving your posture and health is to gain awareness. Below is a list of factors contributing to the creation of a hump.
1. Spinal misalignments, called “vertebral subluxations” in chiropractic.
2. Weak spinal muscles.
3. Sustained stress.
4. Prolonged hours looking down (desk/computer work, gardening, interacting with small children, etc).
5. Poor postural habits.
6. Poor self-image.
7. Accidents, injuries, and falls.
8. Sleeping on the stomach or poor mattress/pillow support.
Below are some simple self-tests to help identify postural breakdowns involving the upper back and lower neck:
1. While standing, notice if the weight is felt greater over the balls of the feet or heels (it should be felt equally from front to back).
2. Take a standing picture from the side or have a friend look to determine if your ear is forward from the center of your shoulder. Are your shoulders rounded?
3. Feel or look in the mirror for the presence of rounding at the base of your neck and/or upper back.
4. Do you suffer from constantly recurring tension or pain in the base of your skull, shoulder(s), and/or neck?
As is seen in chiropractic, the hump manifests with the existence of multiple breakdowns in spinal alignment. Once the specific areas of vertebral subluxation are determined, gentle adjustments to the spine and pelvis are made. I regularly observe immediate improvement in my patients. Just one visit can result in better posture and the reduction of upper back rounding. Some of the most profound changes have been observed in people over 80 years old. No spine is ever too old. With the corrections in alignment and posture, patients typically notice increased energy and strength and deeper breathing.
Realignment treatment does not stop with one visit. A multifaceted approach is necessary for prevention and correction. As a primary causative element, spinal alignment needs to be addressed initially by a chiropractor. Next, change any of the factors that contribute to the development of a hump. Exercise plays a key role. I am partial to yoga, and I often integrate it into my patients’ care. Massage therapy is also helpful (which we offer in our Wilmington office).
The next time you hear a person say “My back is killing me”, look at his or her posture- the unfortunate one just may be RIGHT! Whether it’s another person or the one in the mirror, be vigilant! Take action now! Chiropractic correction is far quicker and easier in the early stages. Improving posture and alignment may be the best step one can take toward a healthier future and longer life.
*In our Wilmington office, we offer complimentary posture screenings. It only takes a few minutes to do a chiropractic posture check and determine early signs of a breakdown.
-Journal of the American Geriatrics Society 2004; 52(10): 1662.
-Ann Intern Med 2009 May 19; 150(10): 681-7.
-AJPM 1994; 4:36-39.