What is kyphosis?

The human body is designed to allow us to sit and stand upright. The normal thoracic spine (the mid back) has a natural curve forward of between 20 and 45 degrees which provides room for the heart and lungs. This forward curvature is accompanied by normal curvature of the lumbar spine called lordosis.

Kyphosis is the term for an exaggerated curvature or rounding of the upper/ mid (thoracic) spine of greater than 50 degrees. It causes a hump which may be called a “hunchback” “roundback” or “dowager’s hump”. An individual with kyphosis may have difficulty standing up straight.  Kyphosis can develop any age and affects both sexes. This spinal deformity has many causes. It is also associated with scoliosis.

What are the symptoms of kyphosis?

Symptoms vary based on the underlying cause and the severity of the curve. It can affect body image due to disfigurement or cause persistent back pain and stiffness, tight hamstrings and fatigue.  A severe curve can make everyday activities like getting in and out of a chair and walking difficult. Driving may be impossible when kyphosis forces vision downward.

Complications of kyphosis can exert pressure on the spinal cord and nerve roots causing numbness, weakness and tingling in the legs. When the curve progresses, it can compress the lungs and abdomen and interfere with breathing and digestion.

What causes kyphosis?

  • A birth defect that alters the normal development of the spine. It is a common cause of paralysis of the lower body.
  • Traumatic kyphosis is caused by a major injury to the spine that fractures one or more vertebrae.
  • Kyphosis can result from spine surgery such as a laminectomy
  • Age-related kyphosis is the result of underlying fractures of the vertebrae due to osteoporosis. Degenerative disc disease compresses the vertebrae and worsens kyphosis.
  • Poor posture
  • Wedge-shaped vertebrae caused by Scheuermann’s kyphosis (caused by a genetic or inherited condition). It affects adolescents during growth spurts and halts when growth is complete.
  • Neuromuscular disorders like cerebral palsy or muscular dystrophy can cause kyphosis
  • A tumor in the spine and treatment with chemotherapy and radiation

How is kyphosis diagnosed?

Evaluation of kyphosis requires knowledge of special orthopedic testing and x-rays. Your Ortho Illinois orthopedic surgeon will conduct a thorough physical exam, review your medical history, family history and ask about your symptoms. They will ask you to bend forward at the waist to examine your spine. To determine if the cause is poor posture, you will be asked to lie down on the exam table. If it is caused by poor posture, the curve will disappear. If not, it is kyphosis and the cause will be investigated.

Your reflexes, flexibility, strength, gait and motor skills will be tested. Standing or lying X-rays will be ordered. Other imaging tests including a bone density test, and an MRI may be ordered to assess nerves and the spinal cord. A CT scan can provide more detailed pictures of the spine.  If your symptoms include numbness and weakness special nerve tests will be ordered. When the curve is severe, lung function tests will be ordered. If symptoms include numbness, tingling and weakness neurological testing will be ordered.

How is kyphosis treated?

Treatment depends on the cause and severity of your condition. The aim of treatment is to prevent progression of the curve. Most cases cause few problems and do not require treatment.

For individuals with postural kyphosis and Scheuermann’s disease conservative treatment will include observation, physical therapy, anti-inflammatory medications, and may include bracing for children and adolescents who are still growing. The goal is to stabilize the spine, control pain and prevent worsening of the curvature.

When conservative management fails to help or the curve is severe and causes severe pain, surgery may be necessary to control pain, decompress nerve roots and stabilize the spine. Spinal fusion is the most common surgery for kyphosis. Early surgery may be recommended for congenital kyphosis.

When you or a loved one are suffering kyphosis contact Ortho Illinois. At Orthro Illinois Spine Care our board-certified, fellowship trained orthopedic spine and neurosurgeons are experts in the diagnosis and treatment of spine disorders. We are a regional spine center for people in northern Illinois and the Chicago region who are suffering with neck and back pain. Our goal is to help relieve your pain and restore your function so you can get back to the life you love. Call us now at 815-398-9491, to receive the correct diagnosis and care.