Can Poor Posture Cause a Hunchback?

Woman sitting at a desk and holding her upper back in pain

The pandemic has impacted every facet of life. In fact, one big change for people was discovering they would be working from home for extended periods of time. In fact, many people still have not returned to in-person employment—not even part-time.

And while working from home certainly has perks—doing laundry in between meetings, spending more time with family and pets, and getting rid of the commute—there are still some disadvantages. One common drawback that people are wrestling with is the lack of an ideal work setup.

For those who aren’t fortunate enough to have a true home office, they have gotten creative setting up shop at kitchen tables, on couches, at patio tables, or even in their beds.

Yet, despite this creativity, working at an improper desk and chair setup can negatively affect posture and may even lead to a hunchback appearance, or what is often referred to as postural kyphosis. Here's what you need to know about this condition, including important tips on prevention.

Role of Poor Posture

Unlike the age-old threat, “if you keep making that face it will get stuck that way” which is ultimately not true, bad posture can contribute to a hunchback.

The technical term is kyphosis, a condition in which the spine curves forward more than it should. This condition is often called a hunchback because it causes the upper back to look overly rounded, so people appear to be permanently hunched or slouching. 

All this slouching has other consequences, too, like lower back pain and neck pain. In fact, one study of musculoskeletal disorders in August 2020 found that low back pain was reported by nearly 42% of home workers and neck pain by nearly 24% of them.

Additionally, neck pain actually worsened in 50% of people working from home while 38% reported an increase in low back pain severity.  

Is a Hunched Back a Clinical Condition?

When it comes to hunchback conditions, there are three common types of kyphosis—Scheuermann’s kyphosis, congenital kyphosis, and postural kyphosis. The first two are clinical conditions with structural abnormalities that are more likely than the last to progress.

Scheuermann’s kyphosis is caused by vertebrae that change shape developmentally to become wedge-shaped instead of rectangularly shaped. And congenital kyphosis is a condition that occurs when a person’s spine does not develop properly before birth.

Postural kyphosis, which is the most common type of kyphosis, is not generally considered a clinical condition. It also is unlikely to cause long-term pain or problems.

Most likely to occur in adolescence, postural kyphosis occurs because slouching or poor posture stretches the ligaments and muscles holding the vertebrae in place. The result is a rounded shape that happens when the stretching pulls the vertebrae out of their normal position.

Even though postural kyphosis is most likely to occur during the teen years, with so many of us working from home and hunched over makeshift desks it has become a bigger concern for adults. Fortunately, it can be prevented by paying attention to posture and stretching on a consistent basis.

How to Prevent Hunchback

If you are concerned that you or your kids are going to develop a hunchback while working or doing school at home, there are some things you can do to prevent this from taking place. Below are four ways you can head off developing a hunchback.

Set Up Ergonomically-Correct Workstations (If Possible)

These days, in particular, an ergonomically correct work or school setup is invaluable. Although it might seem simpler to prop your laptop on your lap while you relax on the couch, it can be detrimental to your posture and can lead to a hunchback.

However, if you are not able to set up a workstation at home, be sure to mind your posture and the positioning of your monitor and computer accessories while you are working and practice good sitting hygiene. While a desk setup is an ideal scenario, do not stress out if you are not able to implement one in your home. You can still do things to protect your posture throughout the day.

Practice Good Sitting Hygiene

There are some things you can do to keep your posture correct and your body healthy while working from home. Start by listening to your body. Try not to strain or force your body into an uncomfortable position and if your muscles start to feel stiff, tight, or fatigued, get up and move around or change positions.

You also should try to move around every 30 to 40 minutes. Set the timer on your phone or computer and then take a minute or two to stretch and move. These scheduled breaks remind you that you need to reset your posture and will likely help you be more productive, too.

Pay Attention to Posture

In addition to hunching forward in an unhealthy position, postural kyphosis can also develop through poor posture from leaning too far back, and from frequently carrying heavy objects—particularly if they are carried improperly. Avoiding these contributing factors can help prevent the possibility of postural kyphosis.

You also should try to look down at your computer with your eyes and keep your neck stable. Bending your neck toward your device can sometimes cause you to put it into positions that can cause strain or fatigue.

Add Stretching to Your Routine

Stretching is an excellent way to prevent neck and back strain and keep postural kyphosis at bay. Sitting for extended periods of time—even in a proper ergonomic setup—can create tension that leads you to adapt your posture in an attempt to relieve the tension. Unfortunately, that often leads to poor posture.

Keep an eye on your posture and relieve tension through stretching instead. Pay particular attention to your neck, your back, and your shoulders. Remember, incorporating stretching into your regular routine isn’t just helpful for posture, it can also help to relax your entire body.

A Word From Verywell

Whether you are working from home or have returned to the office, paying attention to posture while you work is important in preventing neck and back strain. It also can prevent you from developing a type of hunchback that is called postural kyphosis.

Make sure you are sitting and working in ways that prevent strain and fatigue on your body. You also should schedule movement and stretching into your day to keep your body stress- and fatigue-free. And, if you are experiencing neck or back pain or have noticed a change in your posture, talk to a healthcare provider about what might be best for you.

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Article Sources
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  1. Cleveland Clinic. Kyphosis. Updated November 6, 2020.

  2. Moretti A, Menna F, Aulicino M, Paoletta M, Liguori S, Iolascon G. Characterization of home working population during COVID-19 emergency: A cross-sectional analysisInt J Environ Res Public Health. 2020;17(17):6284. Published 2020 Aug 28. doi:10.3390/ijerph17176284

  3. American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons. Kyphosis (roundback) of the spine. Updated August 2020.