I am 62 years old and have noticed in recent years that I am becoming very round-shouldered. My backbone sticks out and I am developing what looks like a hump. Is this to do with having bad posture? Is there anything I can do to improve it?
The classic “dowager’s hump” conjures up images of a little old lady with a walking stick and a very bent-over back that permanently bows her head. Thankfully there are fewer cases these days of this very extreme spinal distortion, which is generally the result of multiple back fractures over time caused by osteoporosis (brittle bones). Back fractures tend to be very painful.
After menopause all women are at greater risk of developing osteoporosis, because the hormonal changes at midlife cause rapid drop-offs in bone density. Later in life men, too, are more susceptible to bone-thinning.
The first thing, then, is to check out whether you have osteoporosis, or any other disease process that is affecting your mid-spine. The GP can arrange the relevant tests. The National Osteoporosis Society has excellent information and advice if you do have osteoporosis; a combination of exercise, good diet and medications usually effectively stabilises the condition.
Whether or not you have thinning bones, you should certainly do something about your posture. Half a lifetime of accidental bad habits – slouching around, hunching over the computer, peering over the steering wheel and so on — can all contribute to significant postural changes that might leave you more than a little round-shouldered.
Do your own posture check. Get a friend to take photos or set up a couple of mirrors so you can look at your sideways profile while standing normally. Ideally the top of your hip, top of your arm, neck and ear lobe should all sit on the same vertical straight line, which also goes down to your ankle. If your shoulders, neck and head are forwards of this line, your posture could do with some improvement.
I really recommend seeking professional help at this point so you can learn exactly how to correct your posture. You may even benefit from an initial visit to an osteopath or physiotherapist to do some work on any major imbalances around your shoulders and neck.
Alexander Technique, Pilates and Tai Chi can all help to re-balance your muscles and correct your posture, whether sitting, standing or moving around. Gym or home exercises can help, too, but in all cases check that your instructor is fully qualified for your needs as an older adult. You can usually expect to be given lots of back and abdominal muscle strengthening exercises, plus stretching for tight chest, shoulder and neck muscles. The programme should tackle your whole posture, not just the bit around your sloping shoulders.
There is no quick fix for retraining your posture. But within a couple of months you should both feel and see the difference as you regain a more upright, taller and altogether more attractive way of carrying yourself.