Workplace Ergonomics? Kyphosis and iHunch, a pain in the back

Do you use your computer for more than 4 hours a day? If so, you may be one of the 80% of computer users that report experiencing back pain. 

Kyphosis, also known as iHunch

It may sound like something out of DC comic book and although it may not deprive Superman or Superwoman of their superpowers, it definitely is a pain in the back, and that can be worse than the power of kryptonite

Kyphosis, or you may be more familiar with the term iHunch, is when the spine becomes bowed, causing a curve in the upper back and ribcage portion of the spine, below the neck. The forward curvature of the spine caused by Kyphosis may trigger a reverse curvature response in the low back and the neck.

How is this different from Scoliosis?

While Kyphosis and Scoliosis are both conditions that are characterized by the curvature of the spine. With Kyphosis the curvature of the spine is forward, causing a hunched posture. With Scoliosis, the spine is affected by a sideways curvature, typically occurring during growth spurts and most frequently diagnosed in children.

Kyphosis: who, what, and when?

Kyphosis is most commonly occurs among adults. It can happen as a result of the degeneration of the spine. Degeneration or Degenerative Disc Disease is characterized by age-related changes in your spine. The prominence of Kyphosis in the elderly population ranges from 20% to 40% in men and women but is more commonly observed in females. Healthy spines naturally have a curve ranging from 20 to 40 degrees. A curve over 40 degrees is considered abnormal and a curve of 70 degrees and higher is considered severe and surgery may be recommended to treat the curve.

In young people who experience Kyphosis, a thoracic curve greater than 40 degrees, may be caused by Scheuermann disease, which is characterized by abnormal spinal growth often also found with Scoliosis. Depending on the severity of Scheuermann disease, physicians may recommend a reduction of load-bearing stress and other lifestyle changes. In more severe cases, Scheuermann disease may be treated with therapeutic braces, physical therapy, and in extreme cases, surgical intervention.

Individuals who have Kyphosis or iHunch may visually appear to have a hunched back, they may suffer from back pain, experience fatigue, and have trouble standing for long periods of time. They may also appear to lose height as a result of the curvature. In severe cases, individuals may experience a loss of appeitite and shortness of breath. 

Causes of Kyphosis can be attributed to arthritis, spinal injuries, bad spinal surgical outcomes, slipped discs, children who suffer from vitamin deficiencies, osteoporosis, and poor posture. Although poor posture can be attributed to Kyphosis or iHunch, the good news is that it does not indicate any structural problems with the spine, and can be treated with ergonomic intervention. 

The case for Physical Therapy and exercise

Research shows that strong back muscles and a strong core can help counteract the effects of Kyphosis. By strengthening the muscles in our backs, we can counteract the forward pull of the spine by pulling it back and reducing the inward angle

In a study of a group of women between the ages of 50 and 59, they found that over a year, exercise reduced the progression of Kyphosis.

Preventing iHunch, Workplace Ergonomics

In 1971, The Occupational Health and Safety Administration was created by the US congress to ensure workplace safety. Most commonly referred to as OSHA, the administration works to ensure the safety and health among workers in the United States by various methods.

OSHA does not mandate that employers are responsible for ensuring proper ergonomics for their employees, they do, however, cover employees with injuries caused by poor ergonomics under Musculoskeletal Disorders for workplace injuries. OSHA, also, has researched and provided industry-specific guidelines for workplace ergonomics.

For those employees who work from home,  Ergonomics, the science of how people work in their environment, can help you find the perfect fit for your working environment. iHunch, another term for Kyphosis, earned its nickname from those who frequently experience poor posture when viewing their technology. 

Quick Posture Tips

How can you prevent or stop this harmful behavior? Here are a few quick tips:

  • Don’t slouch, sit upright. Slouching in a chair can result in pain and tension in your muscles.
  • Don’t lean your head forward or down when texting or working on your computer. 
  • Stand straight, imagine your body in perfect alignment. 
  • Distribute your weight evenly on both legs.

For a deeper dive into making adjustments, the Mayo Clinic provides a helpful guide on how to makeover your home working environment to help you feel comfortable, prevent pain caused by poor ergonomics and keep your spine healthy.

And remember this content is not a substitute for professional advice from a physician or health care provider. Never attempt to treat yourself without advice or guidance from a professional. 

Happy and healthy working!