Painful Kyphosis and a Forward Head

Kyphosis is the fancy word for the condition of over-curvature of your upper back. This structural problem of your thoracic spine sets up a powerful pain syndrome caused by the rounding of your spine. Postural Kyphosis is the more common type and can be corrected if caught in time. What is the usual suspect? Slouching! Yep, slouching! With commitment, however, your painful back and neck can be overcome with postural exercises.

If you have Kyphosis, you view life from a downward slant. Gravity pulls your head down and your tired upper back muscles must work hard to hold up the weight of your heavy head. While bone weakening and fractures can cause this forward flexion, you are likely bent forward and downward because of a musculature weakening.

A forward head posture is not to be confused with Dowager’s Hump between the shoulder blades. This hump occurs because of osteoporosis when vertebrae have fractured. In this case, a hump forms on the upper neck area where the body lays down more fatty skin to protect the cervical spinal cord, propelling a forward head posture. Even this condition can be modified through postural exercise.

When you have the extreme situation of Kyphosis-Lordosis, this means that the curvature of the spine has lost its all-functioning S-curve. You now have a forward head posture, with an excessive upper back curve and an excessive lumbar curve. This forces an anterior (forward) pelvic tilt, where your knees are locked out. In that you need your legs to be the vertical pillars that support you, your body is now fully compromised. The condition of your life is pain.

When your thoracic back is in flexion, it pulls forward on your upper torso (the paraspinous muscles); the opposing extensor, rotator, and lateral muscles tighten in reaction. Over time, you are restricted in the motion of your upper back and shoulders. Because your body is now top-heavy, gravity gets greedier; your shoulders persist in rounding forward and your head droops ever more. Then what happens? More thoracic flexion, more upper back and chest tightness, more pain. Increasingly, you are losing function.

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Once Kyphosis has set in, thoracic back pain tends to morph into new pain symptoms. The muscle tightness starts to burn between your shoulder blades. Your neck stiffens. Turning your head from left to right and up and down becomes more difficult, if not painful. You might get numbness in your shoulders, arms, and hands. The joints of your upper torso have been pulled out of alignment and that constricts your circulation. Your body needs movement and no longer has proper upper body function. Yes, you are cranky!

A forward head position is a key thoracic-back problem indicator. If you are always forced to look downward but must look out over the horizon, you would have to lean back on your hips to do so. Your thoracic flexion has thrust your shoulders and head so far forward that it would be impossible to gaze at the moon without lying down and propping up your neck with a support pillow! The next time you are on the road, just think about how many millions of other drivers suffer from Kyphosis. Far too many cannot move their neck to make safe lane changes! Rear view mirrors can help, but wouldn’t it be better to have a full neck range of motion?

If this thoracic tightness defines you, stand up right now to take a postural test. Does this postural position help ease your upper back pain? Bring your shoulder blades together while pointing your toes in as if pigeon-toed. Does your tightness ease? What has happened is that your experimental foot stance has brought your pelvis back in line with your shoulders. Your upper back tightness is telling you that your struggling shoulders are only able to hang out in mid-air. They derive limited structural support from your load-bearing joints and little interaction with the musculature of your pelvic girdle. Your back is in pain and, worse, the Kyphosis is setting up new compromising positions for your body.

Your solution is to find a way to reunite the two halves of your body. Egoscue e-cises can allow you to do that. For sure, you want to avoid a tight thoracic back and the painful forward head it causes. I can honestly say that you can make progress just as my many posture clients have done before you. The sooner you do, the less chance that your disks may degenerate or auto fuse, causing an ever-present forward head.

So use your head, right? Your brain still works, despite the forward angle of its carry case!  Let’s move your head upright again, where it longs to be.