A posture corrector is an effective treatment for postural kyphosis, a consequence of poor posture often caused by slouching over screens and work desks. Since posture correctors work by aligning your spine and training your muscles to hold proper posture, they can help reverse kyphotic posture (a.k.a. "hunchback") to achieve a straighter, taller, slimmer appearance.
Still, it's important to rule out other types of kyphosis before buying a posture corrector. Here's what you need to know about kyphosis and when a posture corrector is an appropriate treatment for this condition.
Postural kyphosis causes a hunchback appearance
The most common type of kyphosis, postural kyphosis is recognizable by an exaggerated curve in the upper back that lends a humped, hunchback appearance.
The thoracic spine – the area spanning the base of the neck to the bottom of the rib cage (technically vertebrae T1 to T12) – should have a natural, gentle C-shaped curve between 40 and 60 degrees. However, excessive slouching stretches the muscles and ligaments that hold the thoracic spine in alignment. This exaggerates the natural C-shape into a rounded upper back.
"Thoracic kyphosis is a technical term for forward-stoop, forward-bending spine," says Dr. Vedant Vaksha, an orthopedic surgeon and Chief of Spine and Sports Services at Complete Orthopedics in Long Island, New York. "Forward posture is bad. It causes weakness, shoulder pain and secondary neck issues."
Postural kyphosis symptoms include:
- Hunchback appearance
- Neck, back and shoulder pain
- Problems maintaining balance
- Lordosis, where the lower back arches inward to compensate for kyphosis
The good news is that since postural kyphosis isn't typically caused by a medical issue, it's relatively easy to correct. Kyphosis back braces are one option, though they're often rigid and force the body into position – once you take it off, you'll go back to slouching.
Posture correctors, on the other hand, support your back and train you to hold proper posture on your own. They can help reverse kyphosis and fix a hunchback appearance over time so that, eventually, you won't need to wear one at all.
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When to use a kyphosis posture corrector
A posture corrector is an appropriate treatment when:
- The kyphosis, or exaggerated thoracic curve, isn't severe (over 60 degrees)
- You're not experiencing severe pain
- You're sure the kyphosis isn't due to an injury, underlying illness or disease
Posture correctors are best for correcting postural kyphosis in adults between 20 and 60 years of age, and they're ideal for kyphosis self-care when the thoracic spinal curve is under 60 degrees.
"Anything more than 60 degrees is kyphosis by definition, and it can only be diagnosed by an X-ray and an expert," says Dr. Vaksha. "When it's not diagnosed kyphosis but a posture stoop kyphosis, then a posture corrector is very important to give feedback to keep a straight posture."
If you have kyphotic posture but your thoracic curve isn't severe enough to warrant medical attention, a posture corrector can be used to gently retract your shoulders into proper alignment. Posture correctors provide support and physiological feedback that reminds you to maintain good posture while sitting, standing and walking. Over time, you'll gradually strengthen and tighten your spinal muscles and ligaments, resulting in a more natural thoracic curve and reducing or even eliminating your kyphosis.
It's a good idea to augment your posture corrector with kyphosis exercises. Dr. Vaksha recommends:
- Back extension exercises, such as lying on your belly and lifting your head, arms and legs off the floor
- Core strengthening exercises
When to seek medical attention
That said, a posture corrector isn't best for every person with kyphosis. You should hold off on using one and consult a surgeon or other medical professional if:
- Your thoracic curve is severe (greater than 60 degrees)
- You're under 20 or older than 60
- Your kyphosis is getting worse despite self-care efforts
- You have a type of kyphosis other than postural kyphosis
- Your kyphosis began after an injury or accident
"Someone who has a sharp hump in their back, whose deformity is worsening, and if they are in the older age group should see a doctor because there could be other reasons that require treatment," says Dr. Vaksha. "Younger populations should also see a doctor for their kyphosis. If it's a small child, kyphosis can be corrected with rigid braces, not posture correctors. The younger to middle age group – 20 to 60 – should see a doctor if they have worsening problems. If it's too obvious or not correctable with exercise or a posture corrector, they should see a doctor."
Types of kyphosis
Postural kyphosis is the most common type and the only kyphosis that's a good candidate for posture correctors. Here are the distinctions between different types of kyphosis. Consult a physician if you're not certain your kyphosis is postural.
- Postural kyphosis: Caused by poor posture, postural kyphosis responds well to posture correctors and exercise
- Scheuermann's kyphosis: Caused by wedge-shaped vertebrae and requires medical care
- Neuromuscular kyphosis: A secondary condition caused by neuromuscular diseases such as muscular dystrophy and spina bifida
- Congenital kyphosis: A congenital disability in which the fetal spine does not develop correctly
- Other causes: Kyphosis can be caused by a range of other conditions, including injury, surgery, osteoporosis, infections, tumors, and degenerative diseases
Kyphotic posture can be painful and impact self-confidence, especially when you have a rounded upper back or a hunchback appearance. Posture correctors and exercise are effective treatments for postural kyphosis. If you're unsure whether poor posture is causing your kyphosis or if your symptoms don't begin to improve after using a posture corrector for a few weeks, consult a doctor to see if there is another underlying cause for your kyphosis.