Please click below for a selection of Mr. Evans' previous articles.
The Importance of Proper Hydration
Asking About Aphasia
Choosing a Stationary Bike
Exercise and Prostate Cancer
Preventing the West Nile Virus
Diminishing the Complications of Diabetes
Speaking of Falls Again
Medicare Drug Coverage Made Simple
Stretching to Relieve Lower Back Pain
A Healthy Smile is More than Just Cosmetic
Exercise to Prevent Falling
Overmedication of Older Adults
PAR COURSE EXERCISE...Outdoor Exercise For Everyone
"Thingamajigs and Whatchumacallits"
© Copyright 2007,
American Senior Fitness
SENIOR HEALTH & FITNESS
Exercise for Dowager's Hump
by Jim Evans
In recent years my wife has developed a noticeable hump on top of her upper back -- I guess they call it a "dowager's hump" -- and I wondered if there is any kind of exercise she can do to prevent it from becoming worse. She is only 62, and it is becoming increasingly prominent as she grows older. She has never been very physically active, but she's so concerned with her appearance that she might be willing to try some exercise if it will help.
WORRIED IN WASHINGTON
You may be wondering what in the world is a "dowager," let alone a "dowager's hump." According to the American Heritage Dictionary a dowager is either "a widow who holds title or property derived from her deceased husband" or "an elderly woman of high social station." What it has to do with a hump I don't know unless perhaps women of this description were particularly prone to the development of a hump on their upper back usually caused by osteoporosis.
Typically affecting older women (it CAN affect men, although not as often), a dowager's hump is an abnormal curvature of the spine that manifests itself as a "hump" in the upper back. When the spine begins to collapse with osteoporosis it causes people to hunch over, sometimes losing as much as a foot in height.
I don't know your wife's background, but if she is Caucasian, if she smokes, or if she drinks more than two alcoholic beverages a day, her risk of osteoporosis increases. If she has a family history of osteoporosis, her risk also increases. Weight-bearing exercises and sufficient calcium intake to build bone density during the formative years between puberty and age 35 can help to prevent osteoporosis but, unfortunately, many women of your wife's age did not have the benefit of this knowledge until recent years.
What to do about the dowager's hump now? Your wife should first consult with her physician for a bone density test. If she does have osteoporosis, the physician will discuss her treatment options. She will probably be advised to increase both her calcium intake and her physical activity level in order to slow down her bone deterioration.
One simple postural exercise she can start doing to perhaps slow progression of the dowager's hump is the shoulder shrug. Have her stand facing a mirror with her feet about shoulder-width apart and her knees slightly bent. Holding a small dumbbell in each hand -- 5-10 pounds if well-tolerated -- with both arms straight down at her sides, she should shrug her shoulders as high as possible (tell her she'll win a prize if she can touch her ears); then lower her shoulders back down again. Perform two sets of 10-15 repetitions two to three times a week. The movement should be smooth and steady without jerking. This will strengthen the trapezius muscle across the top of the back and help minimize the appearance of the dowager's hump.
Younger women would do well to increase their calcium intake and engage in more weight-bearing exercises to prevent osteoporosis before they grow older. However, it is never too late to change the habits of a lifetime and slow the progression of this disease at any age.
Jim Evans is a 40-year veteran of the health and fitness industry and a nationally recognized consultant on fitness for seniors.
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