Neck Hump, Buffalo Hump and Dowager's Hump – Oh My!

In cartoons, neck humps are most commonly drawn on the elderly. Neck, Buffalo and Dowager's humps, however, aren't just for those with the wisdom of ages; everyone (young and old) is at risk of sprouting a hump.

What's the Difference?

Humps at the neck's base characterize neck hump, buffalo hump and Dowager's hump. Though all terms are similar, there are differences.

  • Buffalo hump typically refers to the type of neck hump exacerbated by growths (cysts) or fat deposits around the vertebrae.
  • Dowager's hump usually refers to the medical condition, kyphosis, the overly forward curvature of the thoracic spine (upper back). This causes the chest to scoop inward while compressing vertebrae in the neck.

How It Feels to Have a Buffalo on Your Neck

Apart from the aesthetic issues which a neck hump presents, buffalo hump and Dowager's hump cause symptoms associated with poor posture such as:

  • muscle tension
  • headaches
  • limited flexibility
  • neck pain
  • back pain

Left untreated, a neck hump will worsen over time, becoming more prominent, straining muscles and eventually leading to spinal degeneration.

Three Major Causes (Hint: Wednesday Isn't One of Them)


Certain groups are at higher risk of developing neck humps due to age, genetics, gender and conditions like osteoporosis or Cushing's syndrome. Everyone, however, is at risk of developing a hump as a result of any of these three common causes.

  1. Poor Posture

Forward head posture, slouching and a tilted pelvis cause kyphosis, which through improper spinal alignment causes a hump to development. Forward head posture, however, is the culprit most often responsible for the development of neck humps. Characterized by a protruding and tilted chin, this posture faux pas often occurs when working at a computer, carrying a heavy backpack or texting.

  1. Injury

Compression fractures which heal improperly can lead to a misaligned spine, causing the development of a neck hump.

  1. Sleep Position

Whether you have good posture in your dreams or not, sleeping in a position which puts stress on your spine and the soft tissues surrounding it can cause a neck hump.

Be a Ballerina, Not a Buffalo

If you have signs of a buffalo hump or kyphosis, strengthen key muscle groups and improve flexibility to restore spinal alignment, banishing the buffalo.

  • Release- Relax sub-occipitals at the base of your head. Rest and gently rock this area on a massage ball.
  • Traction- Also supine, sling a rolled up towel around the base of your head. Gently tug each end. Achieve a similar stretch while standing or sitting by tucking your chin to feel the back of your neck stretch.
  • Bridge- On your back, with knees bent and feet on the floor, press shoulders into the ground. Lift hips and abdomen, activating glutes and hamstrings. Hold or repeat.

The best way to fix a neck hump is to avoid developing one altogether. Get the buffalo off your back by practicing proper posture with an ergonomically designed workspace, home and sleep environment. Strengthening core muscles will help you maintain healthy spinal alignment, preserve your posture and keep your neck gracefully hump-free, like a ballerina's.