POEM: Spine

Flex forward and a row of rounded, fleshy knobs form in that muscled valley — straight and evenly-spaced.

Chest up & shoulders back and the knobs shrink, enshrouded; while those low, rolling knolls become bounded by scapular cliffs.

Dance about and a million topographies form and disband: all without a sharp corner — nothing but smooth transitions, gracefully made.

Fronts get all the attention, but backs are masters of the beauty of subtle change.

My spine bends and flexes, and I’m alive.

Sparks run in riffles down that line, and I’m alive.

5 Facts about Hyperkyphosis

Source: William Crochot via Wikipedia


Hyperkyphosis (a.k.a. Excessive Thoracic Kyphosis, “Dowager’s Hump”, or often just called Kyphosis) is an excessive outward curve of the thoracic (chest) region of the spine. There are many causes and contributors to this problem, but–for the purposes of this post–I’ll be focusing on postural kyphosis. There is a natural curvature in this part of the spine that is healthy. However, as is also true of the lumbar spine, the amount of curvature can become excessive, leading to a number of health conditions.


5.) Hyperkyphosis increases the risk of injurious falls in older people. Having one’s head forward, when combined with a lack of capacity to respond quickly to loss of balance, makes it more likely one will fall and hurt oneself.

Source: Kado, D.M., et. al. 2007. Hyperkyphotic posture and risk of injurious falls in older persons: the Rancho Bernardo Study. J Gerontol A Bio Sci Med Sci. Vol. 62: 652-657.


4.) As far as the muscles of your upper back and neck are concerned, an 11 pound head can weigh 40 to 50 pounds when it’s forward positioned. Hyperkyphosis and forward head position tend to go hand in hand. If you purposely slump your back you’ll see why.

Source: Hansraj, K.K. 2014. Assessment of stresses in the cervical spine caused by posture and position of head. Surg Technol Int. Vol. 25(Nov): 277-279.


3.) There is reason to believe the young are becoming more prone to hyperkyphosis in conjunction with “text neck” from spending lots of time slumped over their phones.

Source: in addition to the Hansraj journal article above, see also: Ward, Victoria.2015. Children ‘becoming hunchbacks’ due to addiction to smart phones. The Telegraph. October 16. Online edition; last accessed Nov. 7, 2017.


2.) Yoga can help reduce hyperkyphosis. A test group who practiced hour-long sessions of yoga three days a week for 24 weeks showed an improvement in the flexicurve angle of kyphosis.

Source: Greendale, G.A., et. al. 2013. Yoga decreases kyphosis in senior women and men with adult onset hyperkyphosis: results of a randomized controlled trial. J Am Geriatr Soc. 57(9): 1569-1579


1.) Older individuals may be at risk for fractures, particularly when doing spine flexing movements, but careful use of spinal extensions (e.g. hands free cobra or superman shalabasana [locust]) can build strength and reduce fracture risk.

Source: Katzman, W.B., et. al. 2010. Age-related hyperkyphosis: its causes, consequences, and management. J Orthop Sports Ther. 40(6): 352-360

BOOK REVIEW: Low Back Pain ed. by Jeffrey N. Katz, M.D. [A Harvard Med School Guide]

Low-Back Pain: Healing Your Aching BackLow-Back Pain: Healing Your Aching Back by Harvard Health Publications
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Amazon page


This guide is one in a series put out by Harvard Medical School. It’s the second one that I’ve read, and I found them both to be beneficial reads. The first was on the health benefits of tai chi chuan (a Chinese martial art / system of health exercise [qi gong.])

Harvard Medical School’s willingness to report findings about unconventional approaches and self-care was part of the appeal of this book. When I first developed lower back problems, I went to the doctor, was diagnosed with arthritis via x-ray, and all I got was an offer for pain killers. To me this was much like going to the mechanic because the check engine light came on, only to be told that all they could do for me is unplug the pesky indicator light. At any rate, that’s why this kind of book can be useful, because one can’t always expect a given doctor within the modern medical establishment to be on top of treatments not involving drugs or surgery. This isn’t to denigrate those options, often times they are the best or only option, and they are covered in this guide as well. However, back pain is one of those rare areas in which sometimes the best option is outside medical norms. Much as many doctors hate having information thrust in front of them by patients, at least Harvard Medical School may garner more respect than a WikiMD post. There’s even a box talking about the mind-body connection, and options in that domain.

Low back pain is both extremely common and often still poorly understood. That’s because there are so many problems that can cause similar symptoms. [I guess this shouldn’t be a surprise because our pelvis had to rotate through evolutionary changes to take us from quadrupedal to bipedal. It makes sense that our nerves and blood vessels might be routed in such a manner as to cause troubles.]

While this guide is short, it does take on a range of issues, including: who’s most at risk, how the spine works [and doesn’t], what the basic categories of back injury are, how one’s specific ailment may be diagnosed, how to evaluate treatment options, what one can do on one’s own to help heal a problem back while preventing future injury, what medicines may be prescribed, what surgical options may be offered, and advice on facilitating a recovery.

As far as ancillary features are concerned, there are a number of line drawings. This artwork is generally either anatomical drawings used to show how the spine works or is injured, or show exercises that one can use to strengthen the back. There are a few pages each of resources and glossary. The resources are not so much printed resources (there’s only one of book, and that one is authored by the editor of this guide,) but rather organizations and even websites.

I found this guide to be informative and helpful. I would recommend it for anyone who has low back problems, or who might benefit from learning more about them (e.g. yoga teachers.)

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