Hatha Yoga and the Treatment of Hyperkyphosis

Hyperkyphosis, which is commonly known as “dowager’s hump,” is a forward curvature of the spine with an angle of 40 degrees or greater. This curvature causes those with hyperkyphosis to have bent-over posture. The condition is believed to be caused by a number of factors, including vertebral fractures, muscle weakness, osteoporosis, and low bone density.

According to a study published in September of 2009 in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society (JAGS), Hatha yoga can reduce the forward curvature of the spine in seniors with adult-onset hyperkyphosis.

Of the 172 participants in this study, half were randomly assigned to a control group. Those in the control group attended seminars and conferences designed to mimic the social atmosphere of yoga sessions. This was to insure that any changes in the kyphosis of the participants could not be attributed to a general increase in activity. The rest of the participants practiced yoga three days a week for 24 weeks. Each Hatha yoga session lasted approximately one hour.

After the 24 week period, the group practicing Hatha yoga had slight improvements in their kyphosis while those in the control group became slightly worse. As the authors of this study explain, “This 6-month yoga intervention resulted in statistically significant improvements in two hyperkyphosis outcomes: participants randomized to yoga experienced a 4.4% greater improvement in flexicurve kyphosis angle and a 5% greater improvement in kyphosis index than control participants.”

Those practicing yoga also reported less upper back pain, less early awakenings, and less insomnia than the control group.

Although the improvements for the participants practicing yoga was only a slight improvement, it is a hopeful sign that this condition, which is often considered untreatable in seniors, may have a treatment.