People with mild cases of hunched shoulders may benefit from exercises and posture correction. However, severe hunching may require more intensive treatment.
Having hunched shoulders is one of the most common musculoskeletal disorders. Instead of an upright posture with a straight spine, hunched shoulders are consistently in an “upward” position.
People often group this condition with rounded shoulders, another common disorder of the upper spine. However, rounded shoulders push the shoulders forward instead of upward.
Most of the time, rounded or hunched shoulders result from slouched posture during computer or cellphone use. Methods are available to improve posture and prevent hunched shoulders in the future.
This article reviews the causes and treatment options for hunched shoulders.
The main cause of hunched shoulders is poor posture. Several factors contribute to poor posture:
- Modern habits: Spending many hours slumped on the sofa, looking down at a phone while texting, or long workdays in front of a computer can lead to hunched shoulders over time.
- Heavy lifting: A lot of time spent carrying heavy objects at work, packed grocery bags, or a heavy backpack or purse can lead to stooping.
- A sedentary lifestyle: Weak core muscles in the back and abdomen can lead to leaning forward. These muscles play a key role in maintaining an upright posture.
Weak, overstretched muscles can develop in the back of the shoulders if a person spends too long in positions that involve poor posture.
At the same time, the muscles at the front of the shoulders and in the chest may shorten. A hunch in the shoulders develops when the muscles at the back of the shoulders become too weak to lift the shoulders all the way.
Other causes of hunched shoulders
Poor posture is not the only culprit for shoulder hunching. The following health conditions may also cause hunched shoulders:
- Scheuermann’s kyphosis: This is a condition that parents can pass on to children, although it is not yet clear how. Usually, the symptoms of a curved spine and hunched or rounded shoulders become clear in people aged 12–17 years. Around
1–8%of people in the United States are born with Scheuermann’s kyphosis, and twice as many men have it than women.
- Osteoporosis: This is a condition that causes bones to weaken and break easily. It
can also lead tohunched shoulders. If the bones in the back are too weak to support the load of the upper body, the bone may collapse on the front side, closest to the chest. These bones may stack, causing a condition known as thoracic kyphosis, or “dowager’s hump.”
- Scoliosis: Around 2–3% of people in the United States have a spine with an abnormal curvature. Most people with scoliosis show symptoms between 10 and 15 years of age.
- Spine and neck injury: Trauma or fractures can also lead to deformities in the spine, especially if a person does not receive prompt treatment for spinal injuries.
A person with hunched shoulders due to posture issues can gently correct their posture at home using stretching and exercise.
However, some conditions, such as scoliosis, require more intensive treatment, such as physical therapy or surgery.
Chest and arm stretches
These can help loosen the shoulders and temporarily relieve tightness and hunching.
A person should hold these stretches for 15–30 seconds and perform each 2–4 times, remembering to breathe slowly and deeply for the entire stretch.
- Behind-the-back chest stretch: While standing or seated, let the arms swing by the sides while consciously pulling the shoulders away from the head. Then, gently bring the shoulder blades together, squeezing the whole time. Grip the arms elbow-to-elbow behind the back.
- Above-the-head chest stretch: People can perform this stretch seated or standing. Link the fingers together behind the head with the elbows bent. Gently move the elbows and hands backward, squeezing the shoulders together. Varying the hands to positions on top of the head or a few inches above can change the focus of the stretch from the shoulders to the chest, making it helpful for hunched shoulders.
People can perform these stretches whenever their upper back or shoulders feel tense.
Exercises for the back, shoulders, and core
Strengthening the core, back, and shoulders with the following exercises can help support the weight of the shoulders and improve stability in the spine:
- Side planks: Place the left elbow on the floor, a mat, or a Bosu ball. Line the shoulders up with the left arm, stacking them so the body is well supported. Stack the right foot on top of the left. The body should form a straight line from the head to the heels. Squeeze the stomach muscles for as long as is comfortable. Repeat on the other side. Repeat this three times on either side.
- Reverse fly: A person will need a resistance band for this exercise. Fix the band to a doorknob. Then, facing the door with fully outstretched arms, grab one end of the band in each. Slowly squeeze the shoulder blades together while pulling the arms out to the side. Try to feel resistance for the entire movement, keep the back straight, and press both feet into the floor.
Aside from exercising to improve poor posture, people
Physical therapy can help people with moderate hunching due to kyphosis, scoliosis, and trauma recovery following surgery.
A physical therapist can recommend stretches and exercises to help relieve spine pressure, improve posture, and reduce discomfort.
Adolescents with kyphosis or scoliosis may benefit from a back brace, as posture may be easier to correct at an earlier age. For older people, bracing can provide support and pain relief.
If the pain does not improve after conservative treatment or the curve of the spine worsens, a doctor may recommend surgery.
Different types of spinal fusion may be necessary. During a spinal fusion procedure, a surgeon “welds” together different vertebrae to provide more stability and improve the curve of the spine.
The above exercises can help with hunched shoulders.
However, slipping back into poor posture can be easy, especially for those who work at a desk or lift heavy objects all day.
Regularly checking and correcting seated and standing posture can help prevent hunching and spinal problems.
People can check their standing posture by standing against a wall with their heels 6 inches away from the wall and the bottom, shoulder blades, and head touching.
It is also essential to ensure any computer setups at home or work are comfortable. Monitors should be at the right height for the person using them. And people should be able to sit back fully in their chairs, ensuring adequate back support.
For most people, hunched shoulders will not immediately present a health concern.
However, if hunching is severe or causes the following complications, people should see a doctor:
- constant pain
- breathing difficulties
- nerve issues (including numb or weak arms and legs), balance issues, or a loss of bladder control
Hunched shoulders are often a complication of poor posture over many years.
Poor posture can develop due to long periods of working at a desk, lifting heavy objects, and watching TV. With regular stretching and exercise, it is possible to reduce shoulder hunching and improve posture.
Sometimes, hunched shoulders can develop due to underlying hereditary or degenerative conditions.
Physical therapy and surgery can help to address more severe slouching.