Hunched shoulders are often a sign of poor posture, especially if you spend a lot of your day sitting at a computer. But other things can cause hunched shoulders, too.
Regardless of the cause, hunched shoulders can leave you feeling tight and uncomfortable. Left untreated, they can eventually lead to other problems, including breathing issues and chronic pain.
Read on to learn more about the kinds of activities that lead to hunched shoulders and what you can do to correct your posture.
People develop poor posture for many reasons. Some might do it unconsciously in an effort to avoid attention. Others fall into the habit from regularly carrying a heavy bag or sitting in the wrong kind of chair, among other things.
Recently, experts have attributed some cases of hunched shoulders and poor posture to increased laptop computer use, especially among students.
Those who sit for long periods of time — including office workers and truck drivers — are also vulnerable to poor posture habits.
In addition, cell phones have made it easier than ever to multitask when talking on the phone. But the act of cradling your phone between your ear and shoulder can wreak havoc on your shoulders.
Keep in mind that posture isn’t the only cause of hunched shoulders.
Other potential causes include:
- scoliosis, a sideways curvature of the spine
- kyphosis, a forward curvature of the spine
- spine or neck injuries, including whiplash
- being overweight, which can pull your shoulders and upper back forward
- muscle imbalance due to working your chest and core muscles more than those in your upper back
Depending on the cause of your hunched shoulders, treatment can range from stretching and exercises, to surgery if you’re dealing with a serious spinal condition. But, generally, regular stretching and gentle exercises are a good starting point.
To relieve hunched shoulders, focus on stretching your chest and arms.
A few simple stretches you can do at home include:
- A chest stretch. Stand with your hands clasped behind your back with your arms straight. Slowly lift your arms until you feel a stretch in the muscles of the chest and shoulders.
- An upper arm stretch. Extend one arm straight out and place your other hand behind the elbow of your outstretched arm. Pull that arm slowly toward your chest as you feel a stretch in your upper arm. Repeat with the other arm.
- Arm circles. Stand with your arms outstretched to each side (so you’re making a “T” shape). Move your arms in small clockwise circles. Do 20 repetitions and then do 20 more small counterclockwise circles.
- Shoulder lifts. Simply lift your shoulders up toward your ears as you inhale, then roll them back and down as you exhale.
You can do these stretches throughout the day, especially as you feel your upper back or shoulders tense up.
Strengthening your back, shoulder, and core muscles can also help to support your shoulders.
Try working the following exercises into your routine.
- Lie on one side with your elbow directly under the shoulder.
- Engage your abdominal muscles as you lift your hips so that just your feet and elbow are touching the mat.
- Hold for 30 seconds and then repeat on the other side. Work up to 2 minutes per side.
- Tie a resistance band around a doorknob or some other object.
- Take an end of the band in each hand and start with your arms outstretched in front of you.
- Slowly pull your arms out to your sides, squeezing your shoulder blades together as you move. Try 3 sets of 15 repetitions.
As you build strength and flexibility through stretching and exercising, you can help to prevent your shoulders from returning to a hunched position by practicing good posture.
But before working on your posture, it’s important to make sure you know what good posture looks and feels like.
You can do this with a simple technique known as a wall test:
- Stand with your heels 2-3 inches away from a wall, but with the back of your head, shoulder blades, and buttocks touching the wall.
- Slide a flat hand in between your lower back and the wall. There should be just enough room for your hand to move in and out.
- If there’s too much room between your back and the wall, pull your belly button in toward your spine, which should push your lower back closer to the wall.
- If there isn’t enough room to slide your hand in there, arch your back just enough to make room.
- Walk away from the wall while holding that posture. Then return to the wall to see if you have maintained that position.
Practice this throughout the day for a few days, making sure that your head, shoulder blades, and buttocks are in alignment. After some repetition, you’ll start to recognize when you’re standing up straight and identify when you need to adjust your posture.
But posture isn’t just limited to how you stand.
When seated, your buttocks and shoulder blades should touch the back of your chair with a slight arch in your lower back. Keep your knees at 90 degrees and your feet flat on the floor. Try to keep your neck in line with your shoulder blades and buttocks, with your chin slightly down.
Do quick posture checks throughout the day, especially if you spend a lot of time carrying a heavy bag, using a computer, or talking on the phone.
If you notice that your shoulders are hunched and rounded, it’s likely a sign that some of your daily habits — from driving to using a laptop — are starting to affect your posture.
With some daily stretching and light exercise, you can help to loosen tight muscles and build strength. But if these changes don’t seem to help, consider working with a doctor or physical therapist to help address the underlying issue.