Excessive curvature of the spine that eventually causes a hump-like appearance in the upper back is kyphosis. You can prevent this by practicing proper posture and doing certain exercises to strengthen the back and neck.

Kyphosis occurs when there is excessive curvature of the spine, eventually causing a hump-like appearance in the upper back.

Between 20 and 40 percent of elderly adults experience kyphosis. The greatest change in the thoracic curve occurs in women between the ages of 50 and 70.

Exercise, combined with good posture and chiropractic care, may help improve your rounded upper back.

A 2019 review of studies on the effects of exercise on kyphosis suggested that exercise may have positive effects on the angle of the thoracic kyphosis. It also suggested that both strengthening and stretching could be useful, though more research is needed to better understand the outcomes.

Nick Araza, a chiropractic wellness practitioner at Santa Barbara Family Chiropractic, recommends these five exercises to help prevent or improve a rounded upper back. Consistency is key. These exercises should be repeated a minimum of three to four times per week to see results over time.

Always consult with a doctor before starting an exercise routine and be sure to listen to your body. If an exercise or stretch is causing increased pain, stop and seek help.

1. Mirror image

For this exercise, simply do the opposite movement of the posture that you’re trying to correct.

  1. Stand tall, against a wall if needed.
  2. Tuck chin slightly and bring head back directly over shoulders.
  3. Bring shoulder blades back and down. Hold for 30 seconds to 1 minute. Take a break if you begin to feel pain.

If it’s challenging to get your head to touch the wall while maintaining a chin tuck position, put a pillow behind you and press your head into the pillow.

2. Head retraction

This exercise is done lying on the floor and is great for the muscles of the neck that are often stretched out and weak.

  1. Pull chin back toward floor, as if trying to make a double chin.
  2. Hold for 15 seconds. Repeat 5 to 10 times.

3. Superman

  1. Lying on stomach, extend hands in front of head.
  2. Keeping head in a neutral position, looking toward floor, lift both arms and legs up toward the ceiling.
  3. Feel as if you’re reaching far away from your body with hands and feet. Hold for 3 seconds and repeat 10 times.

4. Life extension

The goal of this exercise is to stretch the tight muscles of the chest and strengthen the weak muscles of the back.

  1. Stand tall, knees soft, core engaged, chest upright, and shoulder blades back and down.
  2. Raise arms into a Y position with thumbs pointed behind you.
  3. Take 2 to 3 deep breaths, maintaining this posture on the exhale.

5. Thoracic spine foam rolling

  1. Lie on the floor with a foam roller under you, across your mid-back.
  2. Gently roll up and down on the foam roller, massaging the muscles of your back and thoracic spine.

You can also try this with your arms extended over your head in the life extension position described above. Do this for at least 30 seconds to 1 minute.

Though kyphosis most often affects older people, it can affect anyone of any age. Here are the main types of kyphosis:

  • Postural kyphosis: Typically caused by consistent poor posture or from weaker bones and fractures.
  • Congenital kyphosis: This type occurs in babies when the spine develops incorrectly and can often be treated with surgery.
  • Nutritional or metabolic kyphosis: Conditions that affect bone formation and density can contribute to metabolic kyphosis.
  • Scheuermann’s kyphosis: When Schmorl’s nodes (a kind of spinal disc herniation) are seen alongside kyphosis, it’s known as Scheuermann’s kyphosis.

Causes of kyphosis include:

Araza says that he associates kyphosis with poor posture and bad movement patterns. He says that even short durations of bad posture can cause negative changes to your spine.

As you spend time in a flexed (bent) position, your head begins to retain a forward position. This causes increased stress and weight on your spine and neck. The head should be directly over the body, creating a straight line from your shoulders to your ears.

By practicing proper posture and engaging in exercises to strengthen the back and neck, you can lighten the load. This will give your spine a break.

A 2017 study also found benefits of exercise and posture training reduced kyphometer-measured curvature. A kyphometer manually measures the forward curvature of the spine. It did not, however, produce significant improvements in kyphosis measured by X-ray, so further research is warranted.

By making small changes to care for your posture today and prevent kyphosis, you can reap the health benefits for years to come.

So, take a break from your phone, practice good posture, and work toward a greater quality of life. Remember: Consistency is key when starting small changes to moving and stretching more.