Kyphosis: Symptoms, Treatment, Prevention

Overview

Kyphosis refers to a spinal deformity in which the back is rounded forward. The forward curvature gives the upper back a rounded or slouched look. Typically, the curvature is over 50 degrees. In most cases, kyphosis develops in the upper back, which is also known as the thoracic spine. But the condition may happen in the neck and the lower back as well. If the kyphosis is really severe and the curve is really large, people may refer to the condition as hyperkyphosis as well.

Mild kyphosis causes few problems, but severe kyphosis can be very painful. Moreover, the condition can happen at any age, affecting both adolescents and adults. However, it is most commonly seen in older women because of age-related weakness in the spinal bones. When kyphosis occurs to infants or teens, it usually has something to do spinal malformation or wedging of the spinal bones.

To provide better treatment, the doctor often needs to consider the age of the patient, how severe the kyphosis is and the physical conditions of the patient.

It is estimated that kyphosis affects 4% to 8% of the general population. And according to studies, the condition affects males and females equally. Scheuermann’s kyphosis, the most common type of structural kyphosis, is most frequently diagnosed between the ages of 12 to 14.


Types

Main types of kyphosis may include the following:

  • Postural kyphosis. This type of kyphosis is often seen in adolescents. This condition develops because of the abnormal development of the spine and surrounding muscles. Also, poor posture and slouching may also be the underlying reasons.
  • Scheuermann’s kyphosis. This condition is much more serious than postural kyphosis. Right now, experts still do not know the exact reason for this type of kyphosis.
  • Congenital kyphosis. This is a very rare type of kyphosis. It presents at birth. Usually, it is related to abnormal development of the spine in the womb. With growing up, the situation usually tends to become worse.


Causes

Kyphosis may happen because of a series of reasons, which may include:

  • Poor posture
  • Older age
  • Birth defects
  • Compression fractures
  • Osteoporosis
  • Disk degeneration
  • Scheuermann’s disease
  • Ehlers-Danlos syndrome
  • Marfan syndrome
  • Cancer
  • Cancer treatment such as radiation therapy and chemotherapy
  • Cerebral palsy, spina bifida, or muscular dystrophy
  • Spondylolisthesis


Symptoms

Common signs and symptoms of kyphosis may include:

  • Slouching posture
  • Hunchback
  • Back pain
  • Stiffness of the back
  • Trouble standing upright
  • Weakness in the legs and back
  • Fatigue


Diagnosis

To determine whether a person has kyphosis or not, the doctor will usually take the complete medical history and perform a physical examination first. In this process, the doctor is likely to assess various aspects including coordination, balance, range of motions and so on.

Then, to give out an accurate and detailed diagnosis, the doctor may use the help of imaging tests.

  • X-rays. Using invisible electromagnetic beams, this test can provide detailed images of the bones of the spine so that the doctor can check the curvature.
  • Magnetic resonance (MR) imaging. Using large magnets, radiofrequencies, and a computer, this imaging test aims at producing detailed images of the organs and structures of the body. This can help the doctor to better visualize the curvature.
  • Computed tomography (CT) scan. This test uses both X-rays and computer technology to show detailed images of the body, such as the bones, muscles, fat, and organs. By checking the structure of the vertebrae, the doctor can give out a more accuarte diagnosis.


Treatment

Based on which type the kyphosis is and how severe the kyphosis is, each individual with the condition may need to receive different treatment. Mainly, the primary goal of kyphosis treatment planning is to restore the normal posture and prevent the curve from getting worse. At present, for people with kyphosis, non-surgical treatment and surgical treatment are both available.

Non-surgical treatment

  • Pain medications. To ease the pain caused by the abnormal spinal curve, pain medications may be prescribed by the doctor. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can help to reduce any discomfort with kyphosis.
  • Physical therapy. For adolescents with Scheuermann’s kyphosis, they are often treated with physical therapy. Engaging in physical exercises and training programs can help to stretch and strengthen muscles in the back and in the abdomen. In fact, with early treatment, the young kids with Scheuermann’s kyphosis often have good treatment results because kyphosis often comes to a halt when the children stop growing.
  • Bracing. Wearing a spinal brace may also be recommended by the doctor. With the support of the brace, the spine may grow into the right posture. But this can only be effective for children whose spine is still growing.

Non-surgical treatment methods can both be used alone or in combination. For example, bracing is often used in combination with physical therapy.

Surgical treatment

Surgery usually won’t be recommended unless there appear severe conditions such as:

  • The non-surgical treatment has no effects.
  • The kyphosis has caused increasing pain that is unbearable.
  • The kyphosis is congenital.
  • The kyphosis continues to progress.
  • The patient is at risk for neurological compression.

If kyphosis is present at birth, surgery is often recommended. Early surgical treatment can correct the curvature at an early age. Spinal fusion surgery is often done for kyphosis. Besides, spinal stabilization may also be performed to help the patients.


Prevention

Although congenital kyphosis can be avoided, other types of kyphosis can be prevented sometimes. To prevent the condition, people may do the following:

  • Maintain a good posture.
  • Do exercises on a regular basis.
  • Do not slouch.
  • Do not use backpacks that cause too much pressure on the spine.
  • Keep back health in mind.


Keywords: kyphosis; hyperkyphosis.


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* The Content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.