What is kyphosis?
Kyphosis is a forward rounding of the back. Some rounding is normal, but the term “kyphosis” usually refers to an exaggerated rounding of the back. Everyone has some degree of curvature in their spine. However, a curve of more than 45 degrees is considered excessive.
How common is kyphosis?
Kyphosis can develop at any age and can affect both men and women. While kyphosis can occur at any age, it’s most common in older women. Please discuss with your doctor for further information.
What are the symptoms of kyphosis?
The common symptoms of kyphosis are:
- A hunched forward appearance, usually most pronounced when viewed from the side as the patient is bending forward
- Mild to severe back pain
- Loss of height
- Difficulty standing straight upright, worsening over the course of a day
There may be some symptoms not listed above. If you have any concerns about a symptom, please consult your doctor.
When should I see my doctor?
If you have any signs or symptoms listed above or have any questions, please consult with your doctor. Everyone’s body acts differently. It is always best to discuss with your doctor what is best for your situation.
What causes kyphosis?
The individual bones (vertebrae) that make up a healthy spine look like cylinders stacked in a column. Kyphosis occurs when the vertebrae in the upper back become more wedge-shaped. This deformity can be caused by a variety of problems, including:
- This bone-thinning disorder can result in crushed vertebrae (compression fractures). Osteoporosis is most common in older adults, particularly women, and in people who have taken high doses of corticosteroids for long periods of time.
- Disk degeneration. Soft, circular disks act as cushions between spinal vertebrae. With age, these disks dry out and shrink, which often worsens kyphosis.
- Scheuermann’s disease. Also called Scheuermann’s kyphosis, this disease typically begins during the growth spurt that occurs before puberty. Boys are affected more often than are girls. The rounding of the back may worsen as the child finishes growing.
- Birth defects. If a baby’s spinal column doesn’t develop properly in the womb, the spinal bones may not form properly, causing kyphosis.
- Kyphosis in children can also be associated with certain syndromes, such as Marfan syndrome or Prader-Willi disease.
- Cancer and cancer treatments. Cancer in the spine can weaken vertebrae and make them more prone to compression fractures, as can chemotherapy and radiation cancer treatments.
An increased curve in the upper spine also can be caused by slouching. Called postural kyphosis, this condition doesn’t involve any deformities in the spine. It’s most common in teenagers.
What increases my risk for kyphosis?
There are many risk factors for kyphosis, such as:
- Having osteoporosis or low bone density
- Having a family member with the condition.
Diagnosis & treatment
The information provided is not a substitute for any medical advice. ALWAYS consult with your doctor for more information.
How is kyphosis diagnosed?
During the physical exam, your doctor will check your height and may ask you to bend forward from the waist while he or she views the spine from the side. With kyphosis, the rounding of the upper back may become more obvious in this position. Your doctor might also perform a neurological exam to check your reflexes and muscle strength.
Depending upon your signs and symptoms, you may need:
- X-rays. Plain X-rays are used to determine the degree of curvature and can detect deformities of the vertebrae, which helps identify the type of kyphosis.
- Computerized tomography (CT scan). If more detail is required, your doctor might order a CT scan — which takes X-ray images from many different angles and then combines them to form cross-sectional images of internal structures.
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). If your doctor suspects a tumor or infection, he or she may request an MRI of your spine. MRI uses radio waves and a very strong magnet to produce detailed images of both bone and soft tissues.
If you are experiencing any numbness or muscle weakness, your doctor may recommend several tests that can determine how well nerve impulses are traveling between your spinal cord and your extremities.
How is kyphosis treated?
Kyphosis treatment depends on the cause of the condition and the signs and symptoms that are present.
Your doctor may suggest:
- Pain relievers. If over-the-counter medicines — such as acetaminophen (Tylenol, others), ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB, others) or naproxen (Aleve) — aren’t enough, stronger pain medications are available by prescription.
- Osteoporosis drugs. In many older people, kyphosis is the first clue that they have osteoporosis. Bone-strengthening drugs may help prevent additional spinal fractures that would cause your kyphosis to worsen.
Some types of kyphosis can be helped by:
- Stretching exercises can improve spinal flexibility and relieve back pain. Exercises that strengthen the abdominal muscles may help improve posture.
- Children who have Scheuermann’s disease may be able to stop the progression of kyphosis by wearing a body brace while their bones are still growing.
- Healthy lifestyle. Maintaining a healthy body weight and regular physical activity will help prevent back pain and relieve back symptoms from kyphosis.
- Maintaining good bone density. Proper diet with calcium and vitamin D and screening for low bone density, particularly if there is a family history of osteoporosis or history of previous fracture, may help older adults avoid weak bones, compression fractures and subsequent kyphosis.
Surgical and other procedures
If the kyphosis curve is very severe or if the curve is pinching the spinal cord or nerve roots, your doctor might suggest surgery to reduce the degree of curvature.
The most common procedure, called spinal fusion, connects two or more of the affected vertebrae permanently. Surgeons insert pieces of bone between the vertebrae and then fasten the vertebrae together with metal rods and screws until the spine heals together in a corrected position.
Lifestyle changes & home remedies
What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies that can help me manage kyphosis?
The following lifestyles and home remedies might help you cope with kyphosis:
- Avoid slouching
- Sit correctly – sit upright, ensuring that the small of the back is supported
- Avoid carrying heavy schoolbags that can pull on the back muscles and ligaments; the best schoolbags are well-designed backpacks
- Take regular exercise (see below) to help strengthen the back and keep it flexible; activities such as swimming, running, walking, yoga and pilates are ideal for helping to prevent back problems
If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor to better understand the best solution for you.
Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.
Kyphosis. http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/Kyphosis/Pages/Introduction.aspx. Accessed July 12, 2017.
Kyphosis. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/kyphosis/basics/definition/con-20026732. Accessed July 12, 2017.
All About Thoracic Kyphosis: Forward Curvature of the Upper Back. https://www.spine-health.com/conditions/spinal-deformities/all-about-thoracic-kyphosis-forward-curvature-upper-back. Accessed July 12, 2017.
Kyphosis. http://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/healthlibrary/conditions/orthopaedic_disorders/kyphosis_85,P07816/. Accessed July 12, 2017.
Review Date: July 12, 2017 | Last Modified: September 13, 2019