A – They’re probably all related to your hyperkyphosis.
How can something that sounds like a jumpy ancient Egyptian, that you’ve probably never heard of, be the source of so much daily suffering?
Hyperkyphosis, translated to English, means “excessive curvature of the upper back”. The upper back is supposed to curve forward, but in many of us, this forward curvature is way too extreme. This causes the weight of the head and the upper back to create a lot of extra load on the body – leading to everything from headaches, neck pain, and back pain, to breathing issues, osteoporosis, and even incontinence. Ick.
It’s pretty clear why when you look at something like this:
So the thing is, we all know that we don’t want to look like the dude on the right, and most people under the age of 50 don’t actually look much like that.
But – you might still have serious hyperkyphosis, because we have two really sneaky ways of *hiding* how messed up your spine is getting.
First, we pull our shoulders back. I’m going to write about this next time, because it’s a huge problem and deserves its own post.
Second, we thrust out our lower ribs (also known as ‘lifting the chest’ and even, ‘standing up straight’).
Let me illustrate this a bit more. Headaches, TMJ, neck and shoulder pain are all my ‘things’, and I’ve decided to spend my summer working to get my spine into a more neutral position in order to help fix these symptoms. It’s pretty obvious when you look at my true alignment why I have all those issues.
This is what I look like when I’m just standing around.
You can definitely see that my head is forward and my shoulders are tight – but I’m not super hunchy. In fact, my posture isn’t bad at all. So that’s good, right? Unfortunately, not so much – ‘good posture’ is usually bad alignment. Check out the big space between my mid-back and the wall.
The way I am hiding the true curvature of my upper back is by rotating my ribcage forward at the bottom (aka thrusting my lower ribs) (also by pulling my shoulders back, but we’ll save that for next week).
When I put my ribs back where they belong, the true picture emerges – and it’s not pretty. My head should be at the wall here.
I’m basically a hunchback. It sucks, but it does a lot to explain the TMJ, neck pain and frequent headaches. It also explains the tight mid-back – which gets totally sore from doing overtime duty hiding my hump!
Since my upper body is such a painful area for me, I’ve decided to dedicate my summer to getting my spine, head and shoulders back to where they belong. June 1 – August 30, is my personal 3 month upper body challenge. We’re going to find out whether Restorative Exercise™ really works!
My baseline is what you see in the picture above. Here are the objective details:
With my feet 3.6 cm away from the wall, my pelvis in neutral, my ribs in neutral, and my head ramped up, there is a 10 cm gap between the back of my skull and the wall. 10 cm!!
I don’t think I’ll get close to making a full 10 cm change over three months but my summer goal for my upper back is see how much I can decrease the gap.
Here’s my plan:
1. 30 minutes (at least) of daily Restorative Exercise™ work focused on the shoulder girdle, neck and thoracic areas (in addition to a regular, whole body practice). As I get more mobile, this will include more and more hanging and swinging (which are the key to fixing the shoulder girdle, as well as being super fun).
2. 10 minutes (at least) of daily Yoga Tune Up work, focused on the shoulder girdle, neck and thoracic areas.
3. Logging the number of Advils I take (I only ever use them for headaches).
4. Choosing a monthly movement habit to focus on changing. For June, it will be my tendency to stick my chin out all the time.
5. Changing my approach to screen time – I’ve just installed two screentime trackers to help me reveal the true extent of
my personal screen addiction; Moment for my phone and RescueTime for my computer. For the first week I’m going to record my baseline use and then I’ll start a) decreasing screen time and b) figuring out better ways to take breaks. (It turns out that it’s taken me 1h54 of screen time to write this, so far)!
I’ll keep you updated on my progress – and share some of the best exercises as well.
For today, why don’t you try measuring your own hyperkyphosis? Let me warn you, it can be pretty awful to realize how messed up your upper body actually is, so don’t try this on a day when you’re feeling fragile!
1. Start by lining up your heels a few inches away from a wall – basically you just need enough room for your behind. Let your bottom, your shoulders and the back of your head touch the wall gently.
2. Check that you have a neutral pelvis. ASIS and pubic symphysis are in a vertical plane – neither out in front of the other. Adjust as needed if they aren’t.
3. Now, curl your ribcage forward as though you’re doing a crunch (remember those?), just until your bottom ribs are in line with your ASIS. Your bra strap/heart rate monitor-wearing area should be solidly on the wall.
4. Then, ramp up your head as much as you can, to get it as close to the wall as possible, without forcing anything. Now your ribs, head and pelvis are as neutral as you can get them – so your true spinal alignment is showing. Try not to be horrified.
5. (Optional) Use your hands or ask a friend to measure the distance between the back of your skull and the wall. Hopefully it is less than 10 cm!