It’s quite common for people to begin to hunch forward as they get older. Is it because they had terrible posture all their lives, and it finally “stuck”?
While it is true that poor posture can contribute to a hunched-over appearance, there are usually other factors at play that force the back to hunch forward. These are 3 of the most common reasons an elderly person could have a hunched-over posture.
Osteoporosis is a condition that causes the bones to become weak, brittle, and thin. Our bones are constantly breaking down and rebuilding themselves to stay strong and healthy. However, when we don’t get the nutrients our bones need to rebuild themselves, we may lose bone density faster than our bodies can replace it, leading to osteoporosis.
Osteoporosis can weaken the bones to the point that even a minor stress like bending over or coughing can result in a fracture. Osteoporosis-related fractures can occur anywhere, but they are very common in the spine. Osteoporosis can weaken the vertebrae, causing them to narrow or shrink. Over time, this can cause a person to lose height, and the change in posture could lead to a hunched or rounded back.
Wedge Compression Fractures
If the bones are brittle and weak, they are more susceptible to fractures. The vertebrae may then fracture due to the pressure of lifting an object or a fall. Sometimes, this can cause the front portion of the vertebra to collapse, creating a wedge shape. The back portion of the vertebra stays as it is, so the spine curves forward.
Wedge compression fractures are often mistaken for normal, age-related back pain because the symptoms are generally the same. However, it is important to get checked out if you experience back pain and a change in posture, especially if you are at risk of osteoporosis. Left untreated, a spinal fracture could lead to another spinal fracture, or the fractured vertebra could press on the spinal cord or nerve roots, causing pain, numbness, or tingling.
Spinal stenosis is a narrowing of the spinal canal, which puts pressure on the spinal cord or nerve roots. The spinal cord may narrow due to bone overgrowth or herniated disc. Spinal stenosis often occurs due to the normal wear and tear of aging. When the spinal cord or nerve roots are compressed, it can lead to numbness, tingling, or weakness in the legs. This is known as sciatica.
Although spinal stenosis can occur in the upper back and neck, it is most common in the lower back. Sitting or leaning forward can reduce some of the pressure on the nerves, providing relief from the symptoms. This is why you often see older people leaning over their shopping carts at the grocery store–it is often called the “shopping cart sign.”
Our bodies do take on wear and tear over time, and that can lead to a hunched-over posture as we get older. However, these conditions can be treated to relieve symptoms, even if the damage cannot be completely reversed. This is why it is important to take care of yourself, especially as you get older. The sooner you get treatment for these conditions, the better.