Kyphosis is a condition where the spine curves abnormally causing a rounding of the upper back or a hunchback. The thoracic portion of the spine normally has a C-shaped curve but in kyphosis the forward curve is excessive. Kyphosis most commonly affects the thoracic area of the spine but can also involve the cervical and lumbar sections as well.
Kyphosis may develop as a result of metabolic problems, neuromuscular conditions, spina bifida, osteoporotic fractures, traumatic injuries, or slippage of vertebral discs. Kyphosis that occurs at birth is known as Congenital Kyphosis. Scheuermann’s Kyphosis (or Scheuermann’s Disease) is a developmental kyphosis that occurs after birth.
The symptoms of kyphosis vary based on the severity of the condition and can range from minor changes in the shape or appearance of the back to more severe nerve problems and long lasting back pain. The spinal curve can cause weakness in the legs as a result of the extra pressure placed on the spinal cord and nerves. Kyphosis can also lead to the development of breathing issues due to abnormal pressure over the lungs.
Diagnosis begins with the doctor asking questions about the patient’s family history and symptoms. A physical examination is then performed to evaluate movement of the spine, strength of the muscles, and sensation in order to make a proper diagnosis and rule out other similar conditions. Additional diagnostic tests such as x-rays, MRI scans, and CT scans may be ordered to further assess the structure of the spine and measure the curve.
Kyphosis has several treatment options ranging from conservative non-surgical methods to surgical correction of the spine.
Conservative treatment is most often the first choice and includes medications, exercises, casting, and bracing for the spine. Physical therapy exercises and rehabilitation programs can help to increase strength and mobility leading to some relief of pain. In cases where the kyphosis is a result of osteoporosis, the primary goal is to slow the progression of osteoporosis through the intake of vitamin D, calcium supplements, hormone replacement therapy, and/or regular exercises.
Surgery is only considered in cases that are severe or unresponsive to other treatment methods where potential benefits outweigh the risks. The goal of surgery is to straighten the spine by fusing the vertebrae to form a solid bone reducing the deformity.