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Is Yoga Effective for Hyperkyphosis?
Postural hyperkyphosis is an exaggerated anterior curvature of the thoracic spine that can lead to impaired mobility as well as an increased risk of falls and fractures. The condition has varying ranges of severity, but it always creates a rounded upper back that can lead to pain, discomfort, and immobility.
Researchers have recently looked to the ancient practice of yoga to see if it could offer some respite from the challenges of living with hyperkyphosis and have found interesting results.
What Does Research Say About Yoga for Hyperkyphosis?
A 2002 pilot study (1) looked at the effects of yoga postures on hyperkyphosis in senior women and found the most significant changes to be in the form of postural awareness and well-being:
“63% of the women reported increased postural awareness/improvement (e.g., “I feel I am standing straighter; because I’m more aware of my posture the more I do yoga, the more I remember to stand and sit correctly” and “I still bend over, but I am catching it more often”), 63% reported improved wellbeing (e.g., “After class, I feel relaxed and peaceful” and “I find [the classes] making me feel better in every way”), and 58% perceived improvements in their physical functioning (e.g., “I really think all the classes that I have attended have helped me with my balance” and “I am feeling more energy, I believe, because of the class”).”
While not necessarily statistically significant, these results show yoga to be an innocuous modality that has the potential to produce truly beneficial results.
Then in 2009, a randomized controlled study (2) found yoga to decrease kyphosis in senior men and women with adult-onset hyperkyphosis. And another study in 2012 (3) found that yoga improved upper-extremity function and scapular posturing in participants with hyperkyphosis.
And then, in 2021, a cross-sectional study (4) looked at the spinal curvatures of yoga practitioners compared to control participants and found results that suggested that yoga exercises and postures can affect the shape of the anterior-posterior curves of the spine and that yoga may be an efficient training method for shaping proper posture in adults.
While this study did not directly look at participants with hyperkyphosis, its conclusions show promise for those who do have hyperkyphosis.
How to Use Yoga for Hyperkyphosis
In order to effectively manage hyperkyphosis, it’s wise to create strength and stimulation through the dormant musculature that holds the spine erect in healthy individuals and to lengthen and elongate the musculature on the front of the body that becomes restricted due to postural patterning.
The following are some yoga postures that can be used to strengthen the erector spinae muscles along with the rhomboids, trapezius, latissimus dorsi, and more, as well as lengthen the pectorals, biceps, and more to potentially help reduce hyperkyphosis.
Cobra Pose (Bhujangasana)
Start lying on your belly with your elbows bent and your hands placed underneath your shoulders.
Root the tops of your feet into the floor and lift your kneecaps off the mat. Gently press your pubic bones down to feel your core, pelvis, and legs engaged.
Roll your shoulders down your back and hug your shoulder blades toward each other.
Expand your chest forward first to create length and then lift your head and chest up off the floor.
Continue to hug your shoulder blades toward one another and soften your shoulders down away from your ears. Puff up your chest and shine your heart toward the top of your mat.
Option to lift your hands from the floor.
Hold for a few deep breaths before slowly releasing back down to the floor. Repeat 2 to 5 times.
Camel Pose (Ustrasana)
Start kneeling with your knees roughly hips-distance apart. Feel free to add padding underneath your knees if you’d like.
Rest your hands on your sacrum (the triangular-shaped bone in your pelvis just below your lower back and right above your tailbone) with your fingers pointing downward.
Roll your shoulders down your back and draw your shoulder blades toward each other. Inflate your chest toward the top of your mat.
Gently press your hands down into your pelvis to lengthen your tailbone toward the floor and, ever so slightly, press your pelvis forward toward the front of your mat.
Option to stay as you are or keep the openness in your chest as you lean your upper back behind you and draw your elbows toward each other behind your back.
Hold a few deep breaths before slowly rising to your starting position. Repeat 2 to 5 times.
Supported Fish Pose (Salamba Matsyasana)
Place two blocks on their lowest or medium height at the top of your mat, about one palm’s distance apart from each other. Align the long ends of each block with the short edge of your mat.
Come to sit in front of your blocks and bend your knees to place your feet flat on the floor, roughly as wide as your mat. Knock your knees in toward each other to create subtle internal rotation in your thighs.
Slowly and mindfully release your weight down toward the blocks behind you and rest your shoulder blades over the first block and your head over the next block.
Let the bottom edge of the first block touch the bottom tips of your shoulder blades so that it sends your heart straight up toward the sky. Rest the back of your skull over the other block. You may need to readjust the distance between your blocks and wish to readjust the height of your blocks. Option to elevate the block under your head to be higher than the first block if it feels better for your neck. You may also place a pillow or folded blanket under your head and neck so that your head does not tilt back in this pose.
Release your arms into any position of comfort. They could be by your sides, open out wide toward the sides of your mat, bent into a cactus shape with your elbows in line with your shoulders and your fingers pointing up toward your head, or reaching up over your head and relaxing down to the floor. Find the position that feels the most soothing and sustainable for you to hold.
Option to keep your legs as they are or straighten and extend them out toward the bottom of your mat.
Soften and relax your weight into your props and surrender into this shape for a few minutes.
The Takeaway on Yoga for Hyperkyphosis
Of course, yoga is never a substitute for medical treatment or advice, but for some, it may be a therapeutic complement to standard care. Yoga has so few adverse effects, but it holds the potential to create change in both body and mind.
So whether practicing simple yoga poses helps to improve posture physically or simply reminds you to elongate your back body and broaden your chest throughout the day, then it is likely a worthwhile practice to incorporate into your life to either potentially prevent hyperkyphosis or help to alleviate symptoms if you already have it.
As always, be sure to consult with your healthcare professional before beginning any new yoga or exercise program to make sure that it will be helpful and effective for you personally.
Leah Sugerman is a yoga teacher, writer, and passionate world traveler. An eternally grateful student, she has trained in countless schools and traditions of the practice. She teaches a fusion of the styles she has studied, emphasizing breath, alignment, and anatomical integrity. Leah teaches workshops, retreats, and trainings, both internationally and online. For more information, visit www.leahsugerman.com.
1. Katzman, W. B., Wanek, L., Shepherd, J. A., & Sellmeyer, D. E. (2010). Age-Related Hyperkyphosis: Its Causes, Consequences, and Management. The Journal of orthopaedic and sports physical therapy, 40(6), 352. https://doi.org/10.2519/jospt.2010.3099
2. Greendale, G.A., Huang, M.-H., Karlamangla, A.S., Seeger, L. and Crawford, S. (2009), Yoga Decreases Kyphosis in Senior Women and Men with Adult-Onset Hyperkyphosis: Results of a Randomized Controlled Trial. Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, 57: 1569-1579. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1532-5415.2009.02391.x
3. Wang, Y., Greendale, G. A., Kazadi, L., & Salem, G. J. (2012). Yoga Improves Upper-Extremity Function and Scapular Posturing in Persons with Hyperkyphosis. Journal of yoga & physical therapy, 2(3), 117. https://doi.org/10.4172/2157-7595.1000117
4. Grabara M. 2021. Spinal curvatures of yoga practitioners compared to control participants—a cross-sectional study. PeerJ 9:e12185 https://doi.org/10.7717/peerj.12185