What Is Kyphosis?
A certain degree of curvature is normal in the human spine. In fact, the gentle inward and outward curves of the neck, upper back and lower back are necessary for keeping the body properly balanced and aligned over the pelvis. Kyphotic curves are the outward curves; those that curve inward are called lordotic.
The term kyphosis is generally used to describe an excessive outward curve, or rounding, of the spine. Again, some kyphosis is normal – typically 20-50 degrees; curves greater than 50 degrees are considered abnormal. A spine with kyphosis can look normal, or it can develop a “humpback” appearance. Mild kyphosis may cause few problems; however, severe kyphotic curvature can affect the lungs, nerves and other tissues and organs, causing pain and other problems.
Postural kyphosis, or postural roundback, is the most common form of kyphosis and is often attributed to poor posture. Habitually “slouching” can stretch spinal ligaments and contribute to abnormal vertebral formation. The condition usually appears during adolescence, and is more common in girls than boys. Postural kyphosis is marked by a smooth, flexible curve that is not typically associated with pain, and usually doesn’t lead to problems later in life.
Congenital kyphosis can be caused by a malformation of the spinal column during fetal development. Several vertebrae may be fused together or the bones may not form properly. This type of kyphosis may worsen as the child grows.
Disorders that can contribute to kyphosis in adults include:
- Osteoporosis, which can lead to vertebral compression fractures of the spine.
- Degenerative spinal conditions, such as arthritis.
- Spina bifida
- Paralytic diseases such as cerebral palsy and polio, which can stiffen the bones of the spine.
- Connective tissue disorders, such as Marfan syndrome.
What Are The Symptoms Of Kyphosis?
- Slouching posture or hunchback
- Mild back pain
- Spinal stiffness or tenderness
In mild cases, kyphosis may produce no noticeable signs or symptoms.
How Is Kyphosis Treated?
Treatment decisions regarding kyphosis are based upon the patient’s age and physical condition, the cause of the curvature, the degree of deformity, the risk of progression and the severity of symptoms associated with the kyphosis. Treatment options for kyphosis include observation, exercise/physical therapy, bracing or surgery.
Surgical treatment is reserved for severe curves and in instances where non-surgical therapies have failed to provide sufficient symptom relief over a reasonable length of time. Surgical treatment consists of both a correction of the deformity using spinal instrumentation and fusion of the involved portion of the spine to prevent progression.