Recognize this posture?
It’s the spine of an old person, right?
Yes, but that’s not the whole story. It’s the spine of an old person who has most likely practiced poor posture much of her life. This deformity of a rounded spine has different names: dowager’s hump (something old lady dowagers get), or hunchback; the medical term is kyphosis. While we normally have a curve in our thoracic spine, severe kyphosis can affect the inner organs, causing pain and other problems. Imagine your lungs, stomach, and nerves squashed and contracted for most hours of the day: not good.
There are several kinds of kyphosis. Some people are born with it. Others, beginning in their teens, actively practice it, and outgrow it as they develop from slouching youth to upright adult.
For some elders, particularly women, age-related kyphosis can occur after osteoporosis weakens spinal bones so much that they crack and compress. When I asked a woman I’d just met at an assisted-living community, “How are you?” she shrugged her shoulders and replied, “OK, except I broke two bones in my back last night.” “What?” I asked, “How’d that happen?” “I just turned over in bed.” At 90 years old, her bones were so frail that simple normal movements caused them to crack. For many others, a lifetime of poor posture creates the habits that gradually deform the gesture of the spine. For them, and us, this is absolutely avoidable. Of course, everyone can do exercises, starting with the most important one, stretching in bed. Read my Stretching in Bed article here.
Regular body yawns during the day can help create space in our torso and spine. Here’s a little video to demonstrate.
Other movement tips?
- The progressive postural exercises of Spacial Dynamics, with practice and integration into daily life, can help change the gesture of the upper back, chest, and neck area. Find a local practitioner here.
- Don’t sit too long. After 20 minutes or so, give yourself a Body Yawn, stand up, and move around (Note to self: do this now. OK, done.)
- Lift your gaze. Looking downwards increases the gesture of kyphosis (and can cause falls as well.)
Who wants a dowager’s hump? Not me, not you!
Read more about Kyphosis at the Mayo Clinic’s website here.
© 2014 Valerie Baadh Garrett for Agile Aging