What is kyphosis?

Kyphosis is an exaggerated, abnormal rounding or curving of the vertebrae that affects the posture. People with kyphosis may appear to be slouching, or have a hunchback or humpback.

Kyphosis can result from trauma, degenerative diseases, problems during fetal development, infections, endocrine diseases, birth defects, spinal tumors and other factors.

Adolescent kyphosis, also known as Scheuermann's disease, results from irregularly shaped intervertebral discs (the cartilaginous sacs between vertebrae) and vertebrae, which cause the spine to bow. The problem becomes apparent in adolescence and may be painful.

Postural kyphosis, which can occur in adolescents and adults, also causes a bowed angle in the back, but in this case, the vertebrae and intervertebral discs are normal in shape, and the condition is not usually painful.

Kyphosis can also be seen in conjunction with scoliosis.

How is kyphosis diagnosed?

Your spine center physician will conduct a thorough physical exam to assess the degree of kyphosis and related symptoms you are experiencing. Tests to measure breathing capacities may also be indicated if chest volume is compromised due to posture or disease.

X-rays are commonly used to determine precise measurements of spine structures and positions. In some cases, magnetic resonance imaging (an MRI) is recommended to better understand the underlying problems causing the kyphosis.

What are the treatment options?

Depending on cause and severity of the kyphosis, there are many different treatment options. Postural kyphosis may be improved with an exercise and a physical therapy program that strengthens supporting muscles. Adolescent kyphosis may be treated with a combination of a back brace, exercise and physical therapy.

Kyphosis may be left untreated in some cases, especially if osteoporosis is the underlying cause and there are no other symptoms (e.g., pain or numbness). Your spine center physician will advise you regarding treatment for osteoporosis.

Surgery may be the best option for some kyphosis cases. For example, children born with structural problems that cause kyphosis often require corrective surgery. Likewise, surgery is often required for adolescent kyphosis in which the curve in the back exceeds 50-60 degrees or is painful. Some trauma and osteoporosis patients are also excellent candidates for corrective surgery. Kyphosis caused by infections or tumors may also require surgery and in addition to other treatments.

Your spine center doctor will conduct a thorough evaluation and discuss all appropriate treatment options and procedures with you. Together, you will determine the approach that is best for you.