What Is Dowager’s Hump and Is It Hereditary?

By: Scott Grant, ATP, CRTS®

Dowager’s Humps aka kyphosis are a curvature of the upper spine resembling a hunchback. Some causes for this are hereditary but some are not.

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Dowager’s hump or as many doctors and therapits call it, kyphosis, is a protruded upper back. It looks like a hunchback and the person will bend forward all the time while standing or walking.

Causes of Dowager’s Hump

Some of the common causes leading to a Dowager’s hump are:

  • Arthritis or disc degeneration
  • Birth defect in the spine
  • Neuromuscular disorder, such as muscular dystrophy or polio
  • Spinal injury
  • Osteoporosis
  • Spine cancer
  • Scheuermann’s disease

Scheuermann’s disease is a hereditary disorder and people often retain the Dowager’s hump that their parents may have had.

woman asking doctor if dowagers hump is hereditary

Symptoms of Dowager’s hump

Dowager’s hump can grow significantly over time. However, if you pay attention during the early stages, you will be able to identify the symptoms easily. Here are a few telling signs of Dowager’s hump that you need to keep in mind:

1. Back Pain

This is probably the easiest way to understand if a back condition exists. Most people complain about having a stiff back and chronic back pain. It is always wise to get in touch with a doctor or chiropractor during the initial stages.

As an older adult, you can advise your caregiver to consult a doctor if he/she always complains about a stiff back. It may well turn out to be Dowager’s hump.

2. Breathing Difficulties

Apart from the constant back pain, severe Dowager’s hump conditions can also put extra pressure on your lungs. It’s as if someone if choking your lungs with all their might. The person will immediately feel short of breath.

Remember, this is not an asthma attack. Many older adults who know about asthma believe that breathing difficulties only relate to asthma.

However, that is not true. Ask the caregiver if he/she has asthmas or not. If they don’t, then it can be a case of Dowager’s hump.

3. Limited Physical Function or Mobility

Advanced Dowager’s hump condition can almost make a person bedridden. They can’t move, they can’t turn around, and they can’t even go to the bathroom. The muscles at the back become so weak that they stop responding in the advanced stages.

The spine resembles an arc. It looks like the person has got a hump. This also makes it extremely difficult to gaze upward or lie down flat.

4. Digestive problems

Severe Dowager’s hump condition can also cause irregular digestion. The person will find it increasingly difficult to swallow. Even drinking water becomes a challenge after a few years. The digestive system creates acid reflux, leading to frequent indigestion.

The problem with Dowager’s hump is people don’t pay attention to the symptoms during the initial stages. Work stress often causes neck and back pain. They think that the pain from a Dowager’s hump is similar to that. However, it is only later that you will realize that the symptoms are far worse than you think.

Dowager’s Hump Treatment

The treatment for Dowager’s hump depends on the severity and type of the patient’s condition. Special exercises and regular monitor can reduce the pain and drive this problem away. However, the patient needs to get in touch with the doctor in the early stages. Some doctors may also prescribe painkillers to reduce the chronic pain.

Severe Dowager’s hump condition may require advanced treatments. Some people grow with a Dowager’s hump because they inherit the problem from their parents. In such cases, the doctor may recommend bracing or even an elaborate surgery that can rectify the curvature of the spine.

It is essential to treat Dowager’s hump at the earliest. If left unattended, the person may experience physical deformity and different body image problems. Spinal fusion is one of the most common surgical procedures that can correct the curvature. It involves a process called spinal fusion, where the doctor permanently attaches or connects multiple vertebrae.

Probably the biggest treatment of Dowager’s hump is to understand the symptoms and visiting a specialist. Unless a doctor diagnoses the condition, the person may tend to ignore the symptoms. That is why it is wise to get in touch with a chiropractor or orthopedic to treat this condition. Once the hump starts growing, it will not only increase the intensity of the pain but also make you look like a camel in the future.

Summary: Is Dowager’s Hump Hereditary?

Is Dowager’s Hump hereditary? The answer is yes and no depending on the cause. Humps caused by Scheuermann’s disease can be inherited because the disease itself is hereditary. If your parent’s kyphosis was caused by arthritis or osteoporosis and you inherit the condition, it is also possible you could develop a Dowager’s hump. But, if the hump was caused by an injury or birth defect, it is unlikely that you, too, would develop it.

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