A dowager’s hump is a severe rounding of the upper back. In older women, it is a sign of advanced osteoporosis, the result of compression fractures of weakened vertebrae. These fractures can be painful, although in many cases there are no symptoms other than abnormal posture. This change is not a “growth” – it is an alteration in the shape of the spine due to weakened, damaged bone.
I discussed your question with Victoria Maizes, M.D., executive director of the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine. Dr. Maizes said that the “treatment” for a dowager’s hump is prevention – taking recommended steps to prevent the bone loss that typically occurs with age, particularly in women after menopause.
However, Dr. Maizes said that there is one treatment that can be helpful for patients who have pain resulting from vertebral fractures. This is a procedure called “vertebroplasty” that involves injecting a type of “bone cement” into the vertebrae to stabilize them. It is usually effective for fractures less than six months old. To determine whether you’re a candidate, you’ll need spinal X-rays and an MRI or bone scan to identify the fractures and determine how old they are. Another procedure, kyphoplasty, is similar and is used for patients with compression fractures in the lower half of the spine. It has the potential of restoring bone height in the vertebra and reducing spinal deformity.
And a recent study in California showed that a small group of elderly women trained in yoga saw a slight reduction in their spinal curvatures after taking yoga classes three times a week for six months compared to a similar group of women who didn’t perform yoga (and who had an increase in their spinal curvatures). The study was published in the September 2009 Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.
While yoga and the procedures mentioned above may help in some cases, in general, I recommend following these preventive strategies for osteoporosis.
Andrew Weil, M.D.