Dowager Hump (Kyphosis), Buffalo, Thoracic Humps

dowager's hump
dowager’s hump

What is the difference between a dowager’s hump and a buffalo hump?

Buffalo hump typically refers to the type of neck hump exacerbated by growths (cysts) or fat deposits around the vertebrae. Dowager’s hump usually refers to the medical condition, kyphosis, the overly forward curvature of the thoracic spine (upper back).

What causes a buffalo hump on the back of the neck?

A hump behind the shoulder also called a buffalo hump, can develop when fat gathers together behind your neck. This condition is not necessarily serious. Tumors, cysts, and other abnormal growths can also form on your shoulders, creating a hump. Other times a hump can be the result of a curvature in the spine.

Can dowager’s hump go away?

Dr. Wilson cautions that a dowager’s hump won’t go away overnight. It can take a long time to correct itself — months even. And, if you wait too long, it’s almost impossible to make it disappear completely.

What causes a dowager’s hump?

dowager's hump
dowager’s hump

Osteoporosis and scrunched backbones also explain the outward curvature of the upper spine, commonly known as a dowager’s hump. Besides osteoporosis and a curved spine, a few other things can resemble a dowager’s hump. One is the growth of fatty tissue called a lipoma.

Can yoga fix a dowager’s hump?

Although more common in old age, and upper thoracic hump can develop in younger adults, too, and is often the result of prolonged poor posture. … Yoga can help you correct your upper thoracic hump over time. The best poses are those that lengthen tight chest muscles and strengthen weakened upper back muscles.

What is a dowager’s hump a symptom of?

A common problem affecting elders today is the development of dowager’s hump, otherwise known as kyphosis. The condition appears in the form of a humped upper back and affects men and women as they age. The condition is a physical deformity, taking the form of an over-curvature of the thoracic spine (upper back).

Humps at the neck’s base characterize neck hump, buffalo hump, and Dowager’s hump. Though all terms are similar, there are differences.

  • Buffalo hump typically refers to the type of neck hump exacerbated by growths (cysts) or fat deposits around the vertebrae.
  • Dowager’s hump usually refers to the medical condition, kyphosis, the overly forward curvature of the thoracic spine (upper back). This causes the chest to scoop inward while compressing vertebrae in the neck.

How It Feels to Have a Buffalo on Your Neck

dowager's hump
dowager’s hump

Apart from the aesthetic issues which a neck hump presents, buffalo hump and Dowager’s hump cause symptoms associated with poor posture such as:

  • muscle tension
  • headaches
  • limited flexibility
  • neck pain
  • back pain

Left untreated, a neck hump will worsen over time, becoming more prominent, straining muscles and eventually leading to spinal degeneration.

Three Major Causes (Hint: Wednesday Isn’t One of Them)

Certain groups are at higher risk of developing neck humps due to age, genetics, gender, and conditions like osteoporosis or Cushing’s syndrome. Everyone, however, is at risk of developing a hump as a result of any of these three common causes.

  1. Poor Posture
dowager's hump
dowager’s hump

Forward head posture, slouching and a tilted pelvis cause kyphosis, which through improper spinal alignment causes a hump to develop. Forward head posture, however, is the culprit most often responsible for the development of neck humps. Characterized by a protruding and tilted chin, this posture faux pas often occurs when working at a computer, carrying a heavy backpack, or texting.

  1. Injury

Compression fractures that heal improperly can lead to a misaligned spine, causing the development of a neck hump.

  1. Sleep Position

Whether you have good posture in your dreams or not, sleeping in a position that puts stress on your spine and the soft tissues surrounding it can cause a neck hump.

Be a Ballerina, Not a Buffalo

If you have signs of a buffalo hump or kyphosis, strengthen key muscle groups and improve flexibility to restore spinal alignment, banishing the buffalo.

  • Release– Relax sub-occipitals at the base of your head. Rest and gently rock this area on a massage ball.
  • Traction– Also supine, sling a rolled-up towel around the base of your head. Gently tug each end. Achieve a similar stretch while standing or sitting by tucking your chin to feel the back of your neck stretch.
  • Bridge– On your back, with knees bent and feet on the floor, press shoulders into the ground. Lift hips and abdomen, activating glutes and hamstrings. Hold or repeat.
dowager's hump
dowager’s hump fix

The best way to fix a neck hump is to avoid developing one altogether. Get the buffalo off your back by practicing proper posture with an ergonomically designed workspace, home, and sleep environment. Strengthening core muscles will help you maintain healthy spinal alignment, preserve your posture and keep your neck gracefully hump-free, like a ballerina’s.

The dowager’s hump can develop in both men and women, but it gets its nickname from the slightly rounded hunch you might see at the base of an elderly woman’s neck.

Dowager’s hump: This condition, which doctors call kyphosis, results from chronic forward-leaning, a posture that is too common in our world of computer screens and other devices. Over time, a habit of poor posture can cause you to develop an abnormal curve of the upper vertebrae and a mass of tissue at the lower part of the neck.

Bad posture is the most common cause of a dowager’s hump. You have an increased curve in the upper neck so you have to lift the head, so it protrudes forward.”

Other possible causes include:

  • Osteoporosis. A compression fracture causes an increased forward curve. This makes you drop your head forward more than normal and then pull it back and up to see forward. It’s those two things that cause the bump in the upper back.
  • Congenital problem. Less frequently, the spine doesn’t form properly before birth.
  • Scheuermann’s kyphosis. This shows up in teenagers when the spine develops into a wedge shape instead of a rectangle.

This problem usually shows up around middle age. “It generally takes a while to develop because it’s a long-term weakening of the thoracic extensor muscles,” Dr. Wilson says.

“Luckily, they don’t take a lot of time. And if you do them regularly, you are going to have less pain, more energy and you’ll feel all-around better.”

Dr. Wilson cautions that a dowager’s hump won’t go away overnight. It can take a long time to correct itself — months even. And, if you wait too long, it’s almost impossible to make it disappear completely.

If you think you might have a dowager’s hump, talk to your doctor about your therapy and treatment options.

How do you prevent a dowager’s hump?

If you are always bent forward, that’s extra weight pulling on and straining the back.

“That forward curve is bad for disks and increases the risk of disk problems and neck fatigue. Our muscles aren’t made for that kind of curve. It can cause upper and lower back pain and even some difficulty with tightness in the legs,” he says.

Maintaining good posture is the best way to prevent this problem. Also, try to keep osteoporosis from progressing to prevent the spine from developing compression fractures, which increase the forward curve of the upper back.

Can you reverse or cure a dowager’s hump?

Dr. Wilson says depending on your age and the severity, you often can improve or reverse this problem. You can accomplish this by strengthening the upper back muscles; increasing tone helps pull up the shoulders and the head. He suggests doing three sets of 10 of each of the following exercises:

  • Start by doing chin tucks of the neck where you pull the chin straight back. This is good for the discs in the neck and strengthens the neck muscles.
  • Perform scapular squeezes, where you squeeze the shoulder blades together, to improve the upper back muscles.
  • Do push-ups into the corner of a room or through a door frame where you move the shoulders past the hands.

“I typically send people to physical therapy to help them learn to do these exercises correctly,” 

From: Dr. Wilson, DO, Director of Cleveland Clinic’s Solon Center for Spine Health - thanks to Dr. Wilson.
Therapeutic Swedish Massage, Sports Massage Therapy in Santa Barbara, Goleta

*Disclaimer: This information is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat a health problem or disease without consulting with a qualified healthcare provider.
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