About 54 percent of postmenopausal white women in the United States have osteopenia, and 30 percent have osteoporosis, the most common metabolic bone disease. As it weakens your bones, osteoporosis increases your fracture risk in your 60s. Approximately half of the 2 million annual U.S. osteoporotic fractures occur in spinal vertebrae. This can cause thoracic kyphosis, a rounded upper back or dowager’s hump.
What to Expect
A fracture can occur during routine daily activities such as bending, coughing or lifting. You may feel acute pain, which might disappear or turn into chronic, dull back pain. But up to two-thirds of patients experience symptom-free vertebral fractures. Accidental osteoporosis diagnoses occur often on x-rays for unrelated reasons.
When a wedge-shaped vertebral fracture occurs, the front edge of the vertebra tips downward. It will heal eventually, but this collapsed position can create a forward-stooped posture. This can exert pressure on the rest of your spine, which increases your likelihood of additional fractures and a progressively pronounced hump-backed appearance.
Many women suffer from pain, headaches, limited spine mobility, weakened back and neck muscles, balance problems and reduced lung capacity. Other symptoms include drastic height loss, decreased physical activity, depression, difficulty sleeping, loss of independence, self-consciousness and social withdrawal. But various treatments can relieve osteoporosis symptoms and improve or reverse dowager’s hump.
Your doctor will address the underlying osteoporosis to prevent future fractures. If you’re postmenopausal, he may prescribe one of three Ibandronate options. Ibandronate prevents the loss of bone mass and treats osteoporosis. A health care professional may administer an Ibandronate Injection every three months. Taking Ibandronate Sodium with vitamin D and calcium supplements can lower your osteoporosis-related break and fracture risks significantly.
Several studies showed that performing special exercises on a regular basis helped older women, even those with severe kyphosis, improve their postures and relieve debilitating symptoms. Consult your doctor before beginning any exercise program. He may recommend you work with a physical therapist who specializes in this condition.
Neck Hyperextension: This exercise works your neck, shoulders and upper back muscles while training your neck to stay in the proper position. Sit at a weight machine. Rest the back of your head on the neck pad. Grab the handles with your arms bent. Keep your feet flat. Push your neck backward as far as you can. Return to the starting position and repeat.
Neck Retraction: Practice lengthening your neck muscles so maintaining proper posture is easier. This exercise also relieves the back tension that causes the humped back. Stand with your feet spread slightly and your hands on your hips. Pull your shoulders back while tilting your head down. Tilt your head as far back as you can and hold for several seconds before releasing.
Bridge: Strengthening your abdominal muscles can eliminate your humpback posture so you can stand taller. On the floor, recline on your back with your hands relaxed at your sides. Bend your knees and plant your feet on the floor hip-width apart close to your buttocks. Lift your hips toward the ceiling. Don’t over-clench your buttocks, or you’ll strain your lower back. Instead, push your feet into the floor, and use your quadriceps to keep your hips elevated. Hold for up to one minute, breathing normally.
Back Extension: On a table, recline on your stomach and hook your feet over one end to brace yourself. Your head and torso should hang over the opposite end. Put your hands behind your head and raise your upper body off the table. Bend down at the waist to point your head and torso toward the floor. Use your abdominal muscles to lift your upper body until it’s straight again and in line with the tabletop. Hold for a few seconds before returning to the starting position.
Physical Appearance Enhancements
Besides a curved back, kyphosis patients notice protruding abdomens and vanished waists. Many are too self-conscious about their odd physical appearances and ill-fitting clothes to venture out in public. Mary Boult, LPN, osteoporosis support leader at Minnesota’s HealthEast Care System, helps women look better, feel more confident and enjoy active lives after osteoporosis changes their body shapes. Watch her video for fashion and makeup demonstrations that draw attention away from her patient’s rounded back.
Vertebral Fracture Procedures
Two minimally invasive vertebral augmentation procedures, vertebroplasty and kyphoplasty, can stabilize a vertebral compression fracture (VCF) immediately. For the best results, you should schedule one of these treatments before your affected vertebra hardens in an unnatural position.
Both procedures involve a hollow needle passing through your back into each fractured vertebra. For kyphoplasty, your doctor inserts and inflates a balloon to expand the compressed vertebra to its normal height and then fills the space with a polymethylmethacrylate bone cement. You receive just a bone cement injection during vertebroplasty.
After a quick recovery period, your cement-strengthened vertebra will allow you to stand up straight while relieving pain, increasing mobility and improving breathing. Restoring your vertebra to its natural position also reduces your risk of future fractures and prevents progressive spinal deformity.
Reclaim Your Life
The pain, embarrassment and complications of a dowager’s hump can lower your quality of life significantly. Don’t suffer alone. If you develop a stooped posture with or without pain, consult your doctor immediately. Multiple treatment options can help you feel and look better to enjoy your postmenopausal years in newfound comfort and confidence.