Hump Behind the Shoulders

Written by April Kahn
Medically Reviewed by George Krucik, MD

What Is a Buffalo Hump?

A hump behind the shoulder, also called a buffalo hump, can develop when fat gathers together behind your neck. This lump of fat is not necessarily a serious condition.

Tumors, cysts, and other abnormal growths can also form on your shoulders, creating a hump. Other cases can be a result of a bone curvature in the spine.

You should always talk to your doctor about any physical changes to the back of your neck.

What Causes a Hump Behind the Shoulders?

A hump behind the shoulders can be caused by a medical condition or by medication.

Some common reasons why a hump will form behind the shoulders include:

  • side effect of a prescription medication (such as those used to treat AIDS)
  • morbid (extreme) obesity
  • Cushing’s syndrome (a rare condition where the body has too much of the cortisol hormone)
  • osteoporosis (a condition that leads to thin bones)
  • long-term steroid use

Osteoporosis, also called brittle bone disease, results in abnormally thin bones. Menopausal women and older adults are at the greatest risk for this condition. This is because their bodies have a decreased ability to absorb calcium.

Osteoporosis can cause bone deformities. If you have this condition, your spine can become curved, which gives a hump-like appearance. This is called kyphoscoliosis.

A hump on the back is also a characteristic sign of Cushing’s syndrome. This disorder causes obesity above the waist, acne, chronic pain, irregular menstrual cycles, and changes in sex drive. Along with other muscle and bone changes, such as thinning bones and weak muscles, Cushing’s syndrome also causes fat to gather behind the neck.

How Is Buffalo Hump Diagnosed?

Your doctor can diagnose a buffalo hump with a physical exam alone. However, he or she will need to order tests to identify the reason for the hump.

To start the process, your doctor will ask you about your medical history and any additional symptoms you have been experiencing. He or she will then perform either one or several tests to find out the cause of the hump.

Some common tests that might be ordered include:

  • bone density test
  • blood test (to check your hormone and cortisol levels)
  • computer topography (CT) scan
  • magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
  • X-ray

Treatment Options for Buffalo Hump

It is best to treat the hump by addressing the underlying condition that caused it. In some cases, cosmetic surgery can remove the fat deposit. However, unless the cause is also treated, the hump may return.

If the hump is a side effect of a prescription medication, talk to your doctor about changing your dosage or switching treatments. Never stop taking a prescribed medication without your doctor’s permission.

If your hump is the result of obesity, a diet and exercise regimen may help you lose weight.

Preventing Buffalo Hump

There is no guaranteed way to prevent a hump from forming on your back. However, there are steps you can take to reduce your risk of developing one.

Protect yourself from osteoporosis by consuming the recommended daily allowance of calcium and vitamin D. If you have a medical condition that prevents you from absorbing calcium from food, your doctor may prescribe calcium supplements.

You should exercise regularly to lower your risk of thinning bones and obesity, and eat a healthy diet that consists of all food groups.

If you are menopausal or over the age of 51, you should increase your calcium intake from 1000 milligrams a day to 1800 milligrams a day. Always ask your doctor before increasing your calcium intake, especially if you are taking medications or if you have a family history of osteoporosis.

Complications of a Hump on the Back

Most complications will come from the disease or condition that caused the hump to form. However, the hump may become large, making it difficult to tilt your neck back. It may also cause problems when you try to turn your head from side to side.

This type of hump is seldom painful, so notify your doctor immediately if you do experience pain.

Some people may become stressed or anxious due to the hump’s appearance. If you develop increased stress or symptoms of depression, visit your doctor to discuss treatment options.

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