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What Is a Dowager's Hump?

Osteoporosis is a loss of bone density.
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  • Written By: D. Waldman
  • Edited By: Lauren Fritsky
  • Last Modified Date: 12 August 2014
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Osteoporosis is a bone disease that affects over half of individuals age 50 or older, though it has a tendency to occur more frequently in women than in men. It is characterized by a gradual loss of bone density and erosion of bone tissue that eventually leads to porous and extremely fragile bones highly susceptible to fracture. A Dowager's Hump, also known as Kyphosis, is one of the many painful conditions that can occur as a result of osteoporosis. It is a severe spinal hump caused when a spinal vertebra fractures, which forces the spine itself to curve forward under the weight of the body mass it is supposed to support.

The term "dowager" is designed to describe an elderly woman's front-sloping curvature of the spine that develops with age. This slope is often the direct result of a vertebra in the spine which has broken or been crushed, which causes any of the vertebrae above the fracture point to curve forwards. This type of fracture is also known as a wedge fracture, primarily because the fracture's nature is to eventually crush the front portion of the vertebrae, leaving the rear portion somewhat intact. While the Dowager's Hump may seem like a natural occurrence that comes with old age, it is, in fact, an extremely painful condition that can be avoided.

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Studies show that osteoporosis is a higher risk for individuals whose calcium intakes have been less than ideal over the years. The longer the body goes without the required calcium levels needed to maintain bone structure, the more likely the chances of developing osteoporosis become. Since the disease does occur gradually over time, its onset is typically not detected until the later years in life, hence its frequent association with aging or elderly individuals. Proper calcium intake, therefore, is the main prevention tool that can be used to reduce the risk of developing osteoporosis and the Dowager's Hump that can result from it.

If the Dowager's Hump is still fairly mild in nature and has not progressed to the point where medical intervention is needed, there are several ways that it can be treated and the effects of the condition minimized. Mild bone loss can be reversed with the proper calcium supplements, allowing the damaged vertebrae to rebuild its interior structure and potentially repair itself. There are also a series of exercises designed specifically to help strengthen the muscles that surround the fractured vertebrae, gradually reducing the pain and discomfort that may be present while also increasing mobility and balance, two key factors that can deteriorate greatly as a result of the condition.

If a Dowager's Hump has already progressed past the point of treatment with simple exercise, there are two medical procedures that involve the injection of a medical-grade cement into the area of the fracture. They are designed to help strengthen the damaged vertebrae and potentially reverse the effects of the Dowager's Hump. The non-surgical process is referred to as vertebroplasty and is designed for moderate occurrence of the condition. It can be performed on an outpatient basis with only local anesthesia. For more severe cases, a much larger amount of the cement is needed, and the surgical version of the procedure, called kyphoblasty is the recommended course of treatment.

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