You’ve been told to “stand up straight” since you were a kid and probably ignored the advice then. But now you notice that standing up straight takes conscious effort -- your back may ache at times and your profile is curved in places that are not attractive. You may have postural kyphosis, a condition that is both an occupational hazard and a consequence of not listening to your mother. Fortunately, in most cases, exercise can set you straight again.
The Postural Kyphosis Curve
Postural kyphosis is an excessive curve of your upper back caused by poor posture. Lifestyle is a major contributor -- years of hunching over a computer screen or typical adolescent girl slouching, slumping at your desk or collapsing on the sofa watching TV all train your spine to hunch, your head to move forward and your shoulders to round. The thoracic, or chest, area of the spine is most impacted but severe kyphosis can affect the entire spine and eventually cause nerve injury and chronic pain. The good news is you can correct that rounding with attention to daily posture and appropriate exercise. The Maryland Spine Center recommends frequent stretching and non-jarring activity such as swimming.
Props for Better Posture
Begin your spine-straightening routine by relaxing tight muscles in your upper back. Lie on your back on a mat or the floor with a foam roller below your shoulder blades. Bend your knees and tuck your pelvis in to flatten the lower back; place hands by your ears. You are now balanced on the roller – you may need to engage your core muscles to hold the position. Keep breathing while you roll back and forth from the mid-back to the shoulder blades for two or three minutes. Use a couple of tennis balls for an even deeper release. Support your head and neck with a pillow or folded towels so you experience no neck pain or discomfort. Place the tennis balls just below the shoulder blades and keep your knees bent as you move up and back across the balls from the lower back to the top of the shoulders. If you work at a computer all day, do this exercise as a break several times to counter a rounded upper back.
Stretch Your Spine
Postural kyphosis involves tight pectoral muscles, Achilles tendons and hamstrings. Loosen them to restore flexibility and full range of movement before tackling strengthening exercises. Stretch your upper back and neck by aligning your back against a wall, knees soft and abs contracted. Move your feet about 1 foot from the wall and push your head straight back to touch the wall, bending elbows at shoulder-height and pressing forearms and hands to the wall. Release tension from knees to neck with a pectoral resistance stretch, a trapezius stretch from side to side and standing thigh and hamstring stretches. Finish with a runner’s stretch for the calf muscles and Achilles tendons, leaning against a wall with flat hands and stepping forward with one foot. Bend the knee as you keep the back leg straight and the heel down.
Resist the Rounding
When your shoulders round forward, muscles are weak. Strengthen them in the gym with exercises for deltoids, trapezius, latissimus dorsi and rhomboids. Lat pulldowns, reverse flyes, seated rows and one-arm and double-arm rows will pull your shoulders back. Weak glutes are a culprit in a rounded upper back so lie on a mat with knees bent and clench and release gluteal muscles to build strength. The American Council on Exercise suggests two simple moves that don’t require equipment. A step-back with arm raise will tighten glutes and thoracic extensors as it stretches hip flexors and calves. A reclining straight arm raise works the upper back while reinforcing a lifted, straight torso. If you slouch while driving, press your hips back against the seat and your head against the head rest to restore healthy posture.
- University of Maryland Medical Center (Spine Center): A Patient's Guide to Adult Kyphosis
- IdeaFit: How to Help Clients With Poor Posture
- MayoClinic.com: Kyphosis Risk Factors
- ACE: Stand Up Straight! And Pay Attention to Your Posture
- ACE: Integrating Corrective Exercise Into Your Personal-training Programs
- IdeaFit: The Top 10 Corrective Exercises
Benna Crawford has been a journalist and New York-based writer since 1997. Her work has appeared in USA Today, the San Francisco Chronicle, The New York Times, and in professional journals and trade publications. Crawford has a degree in theater, is a certified Prana Yoga instructor, and writes about fitness, performing and decorative arts, culture, sports, business and education .