What is a ‘Dowager’s Hump’?

Dowager's hump

What is a ‘Dowager’s Hump’?

Is it a compliment? ‘Dowager’ after all is a connotation reserved for the dignified and wealthy. But ‘Dowager’s Hump’ has nothing to do with ‘dignity’ nor ‘wealth’! It refers to hyperkyphosis or the excessive curvature of the spine characterized by the fatty deposit or benign lipoma (bump) that grows at the intersection between your neck and shoulders and a forward head posture.

How did it form behind my back?

‘Dowager’s Hump’ is commonly observed on smombies (it’s a legit word! Smart phones + Zombies = Smombies). However, it’s not just on the people who have their heads down all the time. Bad lifestyle including improper pillow height or constant hunched back posture can cause this phenomenon as well (some says osteoporosis is a (albeit indirect) cause too).

When the head is lowered, the cervical spine is excessively curved towards the front, and the lower thoracic spine is excessively curved back (think of a curled-up letter ‘S’), as a result, the attached muscles would have to change to negate the effect. Muscle changes cause local blood circulation to be impaired, and therefore, fat accumulation, forming a “bump”.

After a prolonged period of improper posture however, the same muscles get tense and swollen, local blood circulation becomes even more impaired, slowly but surely, your cervical spine too, would undergo some serious bone changes, and alas, the “Dowager’s Hump” has successfully rooted itself behind your back!


Okay, so other than aesthetic reason, I don’t see much problem with it? Why the big hoo-ha? ¯\_ಠ_ಠ_/¯

To think that it is just a matter of aesthetic is such a narrow view!

The formation of fatty deposits at the base of your neck is already signifying that the soft tissue around your neck is injured. At best, you will only experience neck & shoulder pain, headache, giddiness, insomnia, etc. However, if ignored, as your cervical spine slowly degenerates, it could cause pinch nerves resulting in numbness at the extremities, chest tightness, hypertension, etc.

Gasp! What should I do then? (☉_☉)

First, correct your posture. Do not lower your head to the “Dowager’s Hump”! Imagine an audience with the Empress Dowager instead, heads up, chin in, chest puffed!

Next, exercise. The following exercises and stretches do not require any equipment nor much space, so you can do it anywhere, including in offices!

1. Lie against the wall. With your back against a wall (the back of your feet, buttocks, base of your head touching the wall, chin tucked in), maintain a straight line through your earlobe, centre of your shoulder, and hip joint. Hold this position for 5 mins. As you get comfortable holding this posture, slowly increase the timing.

Lie against wall

2. Shoulder shrug. With your arms by your side, bring your shoulders as high as you can, hold the position for a few secs before relaxing your muscles and dropping your shoulders back to its natural position. Repeat 10 times. Follow up with 10 times of forward shoulder rolls and backward shoulder rolls each.

3. Neck stretches. Rotate your neck joint by looking up, down, left, right, stopping at each direction for 10 secs. Once you are done checking for fallen pennies and the traffic, tilt your head to the left and right, again, holding each tilt at its maximum for 10 secs. Lastly, rotate the neck clockwise and anticlockwise 5 times each.

Even without the ‘Dowager’s Hump’, it is still good to perform the listed exercises and take note of your daily posture, prevention is after all better than treatment, and they could also help release common neck and shoulder aches from daily work, so why not?

After saying this much, what can my TCM physician do to ease this pain in the neck?

Common treatment methods used by TCM physicians includes acupuncture and moxibustion to promote local blood circulation thereby releasing tension and the fatty deposit. For more information, do consult your TCM physician!

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