Why do people develop a “hunch” as they get older, and can it be corrected?
The technical term for this condition is Kyphosis.
It develops in response to environmental conditions, in this case it is the environmental factors related to domestication.
Specifically the condition results from chronically carrying the head forward of the shoulders, combined with inactivity of opposing muscle groups; this combination is the precursor of many chronic pain cases for which medical treatment is ineffective and unnecessary with hygienic practice.
This is a common postural pattern of domesticated human society. it is seen not only in reading, but also in tool use (including computers and pads), driving, the stress response… once you have the pattern basically everything you do. At Dynamic Balance we refer to it as domesticated reflex posture.
The early stages of Kyphosis are indicated by the head being carried forward of the shoulders.
Observe where an individual’s ear hole rest in relation to the center of the shoulder when viewing the profile. Ideally, the ear should rest directly above the shoulder. When the head falls forward, muscle tension is then required to prevent the head from falling even farther forward setting up a vicious loop.
Picture a bowling ball balanced on a wooden dowel. The moment the bowling ball rolls off-center, it is going to fall. Now imagine the bowling ball has three strings attached to the back of the bowling ball where one could attempt to keep the off-center bowling ball from falling. The amount of force and the complexity of this task is indicative of the muscular activity required every second of every waking moment to maintain the position of your head when it is carried forward of the shoulders.
If the environmental conditions that draw the head forward continue, the condition will progress through phases. The head will creep progressively forward and the muscle tension will continue to increase and expand in area. Muscles under such distress will hurt, and interrupting this pattern provides relief.
After a number of years, muscles shortened due to chronic constriction become physically altered by the deposition of collagen, which splints the muscle into this shortened length. Muscles that are under-used will atrophy and lose capacity; tissues will become congested with the remnants of repetitive acute inflammation cycles.
In the later stages of life, as the condition progresses, we see changes in the discs which dry up losing pliability and volume; along with bones of the spine which become porous and less dense with calcium (a process known as osteoporosis). They can become deformed, flattened, distorted, grow bone spurs and other aberrations.
In the early stages Kyphosis is completely correctible. In fact, it can be completely prevented if a counter-training strategy is introduced early enough. As technology permeates our lives at younger and younger ages, this becomes more difficult.
Individuals with advanced cases can still achieve a great deal of correction and relief via therapeutic work done at home, beginning with our Foundation Five series. If the condition has developed to the point where movement is restricted and the condition has become painful, relief can still be gained. However, in such cases, it is likely that therapeutic intervention and instruction will be needed, in addition to a higher level of commitment and longer duration of treatment.
The longer a musculo-skeletal flaw exists, the longer it takes to correct, and the more difficult it becomes to eliminate. In the later phases, when structural change has set in, one can often find some relief via non-surgical therapies but the ability to “correct’ the problem has passed. Such cases will require a much longer, more intense treatment period and possibly require ongoing care. For those who cannot find relief potential medical interventions include, but are not limited to: pain relievers, corticosteroids, nerve blocking strategies and surgical intervention.
The key to eliminating this condition is prevention. If the condition is pre-existing, early intervention is essential. Our society possesses the knowledge to make this condition a thing of the past.