Hunched Shoulders Symptoms, Causes & Statistics

Understand hunched shoulders symptoms, including 4 causes & common questions.

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Contents

  1. Symptoms
  2. Causes
  3. 4 Possible Hunched Shoulders Conditions
  4. Treatments and Relief
  5. Real-Life Stories
  6. Statistics
  7. Related Articles
  8. References

Hunched Shoulders Symptoms

A normal spine does not go straight up and down; the upper back has a curve facing backward, while the lower back has a curve facing forward. Sometimes the curvature of the upper back becomes more pronounced than the normal shape, causing the shoulders to hunch forward. Problems in the vertebrae of the spine, the discs that provide cushioning between the vertebrae, or the muscles around the spine can lead to hunched shoulders.

This condition can be difficult to treat since it occurs after long-standing changes to the structure of the spine. A severely abnormal shape of the spine can compress internal organs such as the lungs and stomach, resulting in additional symptoms.

Common characteristics and accompanying symptoms of hunched shoulders

Symptoms that can be associated with hunched shoulders include:

  • Back pain: This may increase with palpation, activity, or sneezing and coughing.
  • Back stiffness
  • Hamstring stiffness
  • Leg weakness, tingling, or loss of sensation
  • Decreased height
  • Shoulders of different height
  • Gastroesophageal reflux
  • Difficulty breathing

Hunched Shoulders Causes

Causes of hunched shoulders are detailed from most to least common below. These include poor posture, age-related changes, cancer, or birth defects, among others.

Poor posture

Hunched shoulders may occur simply due to bad posture, with no underlying medical condition. If this is the case, you will be able to voluntarily straighten out your shoulders. Poor posture often becomes evident during the teenage years [1].

Age-related changes

Changes that are simply due to normal aging, as well as injury, may lead to hunched shoulders.

  • Bone injury: Osteoporosis causes thinning of the bones that make up the spine (vertebrae), along with an increased risk of compression fractures, where one or more vertebrae are crushed [2]. As the bones collapse and disrupt the normal shape of the spine, the shoulders become hunched. You may notice pain at a particular point in the back that worsens with palpation, movement, or coughing and sneezing. Your height may also decrease.
  • Disc degeneration: Shrinkage of the discs between vertebrae with age can change the normal structure of the spine and cause hunched shoulders [3].

Cancer

Cancer and/or radiation therapy to treat cancer in the spine can weaken the bones, leading to compression fractures and hunched shoulders.

Birth defects

Hunched shoulders can be present at birth due to abnormal formation of the vertebrae.

Other causes

Multiple medical conditions, often inherited, can result in hunched shoulders. These include conditions that affect the strength or shape of the vertebrae or the strength of the muscles that surround and support the spine.

4 Possible Hunched Shoulders Conditions

The list below shows results from the use of our quiz by Buoy users who experienced hunched shoulders. This list does not constitute medical advice and may not accurately represent what you have.

Osteoporotic spinal fracture

Osteoporosis is a condition in which the density and quality of bone are reduced. Cracks can appear in the boney structures of the back (vertebrae) which can lead to back pain, back deformities and loss of height.

Rarity: Uncommon

Top Symptoms: mid back pain, spontaneous mid back pain, unintentional weight loss, back pain affecting the spine, back deformity

Urgency: In-person visit

Cushing syndrome

Cushing Syndrome is a hormonal disorder. The cause is long-term exposure to too much cortisol, a hormone that the adrenal gland makes. Sometimes, taking synthetic hormone medicine like corticosteroids to treat an inflammatory disease leads to Cushing's syndrome.

Rarity: Rare

Top Symptoms: fatigue, headache, depressed mood, weight gain, back pain

Urgency: Primary care doctor

Hunched Shoulders Symptom Checker

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Adrenal cortical carcinoma

Adrenocortical carcinoma is an aggressive cancer of the adrenal glands. The cancer has often invaded nearby tissues or metastasized to distant organs at the time of diagnosis, and the overall 5-year survival rate is only 20-35%.

Rarity: Ultra rare

Top Symptoms: fatigue, loss of appetite, weight gain, trouble sleeping, unintentional weight loss

Urgency: Primary care doctor

Adrenal cortical adenoma

Adrenal cortical adenoma is a benign (non-cancerous) tumor of the adrenal gland. It is also called:

  • Adenoma of the adrenal gland.
  • Adrenal adenoma.
  • Adrenocortical adenoma.

The cause is not known, though family history may be a factor in some cases.

Some adrenal adenomas create no symptoms. Others may produce high levels of hormones that create other conditions, such as Cushing syndrome or primary aldosteronism. These conditions in turn cause their own symptoms such as high blood pressure, fatigue, weakness, upper body obesity, bruising, high blood sugar, and other metabolic and hormonal disturbances.

Diagnosis is made through imaging. These tumors are often incidental, or unexpected, findings that are only discovered when imaging is being done for other reasons. Blood tests and a biopsy may also be done to confirm the diagnosis.

If the tumor is not producing hormones, only monitoring is needed. Otherwise, treatment involves medications that can adjust the hormone levels. Surgery may be done to remove a tumor producing very high levels of hormones.

Rarity: Ultra rare

Top Symptoms: fatigue, depressed mood, side pain, weight gain, general abdominal pain

Urgency: Primary care doctor

Hunched Shoulders Treatments and Relief

Most causes of hunched shoulders are progressive over time and do not require immediate treatment. However, compression fractures can rarely cause dangerous injuries to the spinal cord [4]. Seek emergency treatment if you have sudden-onset leg weakness, tingling, or numbness.

At-home treatments

Some at-home treatments may help with hunched shoulders or associated symptoms.

  • Avoid smoking and drinking alcohol: These habits increase your risk of vertebral compression fractures.
  • Pain medication: Ibuprofen or acetaminophen (Tylenol) can help with back pain, but do not take the medication for more than a week without seeing a medical provider.
  • Increase calcium and vitamin D: To help with bone strength, increase your consumption of foods that are high in calcium and/or vitamin D [2,5]. These include dairy products and green, leafy vegetables like kale.
  • Exercise regularly: Daily weight-bearing exercise, such as walking or jogging, will also help increase bone strength and prevent vertebral compression fractures.

When to see a doctor

In many cases, even if emergency care isn't necessary, you should seek evaluation and treatment. Make an appointment with your medical provider if:

  • You have persistent or increasing back pain
  • Your hunched shoulders are interfering with everyday activities
  • You have poor body image or social anxiety: Due to the appearance of your shoulders
  • You are having difficulty breathing
  • You gradually develop leg stiffness, numbness, tingling, or weakness
  • You are unable to fix your hunched shoulders by sitting up straight
  • You are concerned about a child who has hunched shoulders

Medical treatments

Your medical provider may prescribe one or more of the following treatments, depending on the cause of your hunched shoulders.

  • Physical therapy: This can strengthen muscles around the spine.
  • Supplements or medication: Vitamin D or calcium supplementation and/or medication can improve outcomes for osteoporosis. These treatments will help strengthen the bones and prevent compression fractures.
  • A back brace: This can help the back develop into a more normal shape during childhood and adolescence.
  • Treatment for cancer of the spine
  • Surgery: You can receive a referral for surgical management if symptoms like difficulty breathing or severe pain are present.

Share your story with others

Once your story is reviewed and approved by our editors, it will live on Buoy as a helpful resource for anyone who may be dealing with something similar.

Hunched Shoulders Symptom Checker Statistics

People who have experienced hunched shoulders have also experienced:

  • 100% Bloody Vaginal Discharge

People who have experienced hunched shoulders were most often matched with:

  • 41% Osteoporotic Spinal Fracture
  • 33% Adrenal Cortical Carcinoma
  • 25% Cushing Syndrome

Source: Aggregated and anonymized results from Buoy Assistant (a.k.a. the quiz).

Hunched Shoulders Symptom Checker

Take a quiz to find out what might be causing your hunched shoulders

References

  1. Kim EK, Kim JS. Correlation between rounded shoulder posture, neck disability indices, and degree of forward head posture. Journal of Physical Therapy Science. 2016;28(10):2929-2932. NCBI Link
  2. Titley NA. Effects of osteoporosis on posture. National Posture Institute. Published May 2014. NPI Link
  3. Posture change with age. Medical University of South Carolina. MUSC Health Link
  4. Vertebral compression fractures. American Academy of Neurological Surgeons. AANS Link
  5. Keep your shoulders strong to stay independent. Harvard Medical School: Harvard Health Publishing. Published December 2015. Harvard Health Publishing Link

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