Kyphosis is a forward rounding of your upper back. Some rounding is normal, but the term "kyphosis" usually refers to an exaggerated rounding, more than 50 degrees. This deformity is also called round back or hunchback.
With kyphosis, your spine may look normal, or you may develop a hump. Kyphosis can occur as a result of developmental problems; degenerative diseases, such as arthritis of the spine; osteoporosis with compression fractures of the vertebrae; or trauma to the spine. It can affect all ages.
Mild kyphosis may cause few problems. But severe cases can affect your lungs, nerves, and other tissues and organs, causing pain and other problems. Treatment for kyphosis depends on your age, the cause of the curvature and its effects.
Kyphosis symptoms may include:
In mild cases, kyphosis may produce no noticeable signs or symptoms.
When to see a doctor
Have your child examined if you see any of the signs of kyphosis. Also, if you develop any of the signs or symptoms, see your doctor for an examination to determine whether you need further evaluation.
Although rare, kyphosis can lead to serious health problems, such as physical deformity, breathing difficulties or damage to internal organs that are affected by the postural changes. So it's important to see a doctor if you experience signs or symptoms of kyphosis.
Your spine (vertebral column) is composed of bones (vertebrae), which are held together by tough, fibrous bands (ligaments). The vertebral column consists of seven neck (cervical) vertebrae, 12 middle back (thoracic) vertebrae and five lower back (lumbar) vertebrae. Lumbar vertebrae are the largest, and they carry most of your body's weight. The sacrum, containing five fused vertebrae, is below the lumbar vertebrae. The last three tiny vertebrae, also fused together, are called the tailbone (coccyx).
Kyphosis is a forward rounding of the vertebrae in your thoracic spine. The vertebrae in your thoracic spine connect to your ribs.
Causes of kyphosis depend on the different types of kyphosis.
Types of kyphosis in children and adolescents
Causes in adults
The spine (vertebral column) of a typical adult is composed of 32 vertebrae divided into five sections. ...
Kyphosis and hyperlordosis
Kyphosis may cause an exaggerated outward curve of the upper (thoracic) spine. Sometimes the body compensates by developing an exaggerated inward curve of the lower (lumbar) spine (hyperlordosis). ...
Certain groups of people are at higher risk of kyphosis:
Kyphosis may cause the following complications:
Preparing for your appointment
If you or your child has signs or symptoms common to kyphosis, make an appointment with your family doctor or primary care provider. After an initial evaluation, you may be referred to a doctor who specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of spine disorders.
Here's some information to help you prepare for your appointment and what to expect from your doctor.
What you can do
For back-related signs and symptoms, some basic questions to ask your doctor include:
Questions to ask if you are referred to a specialist include:
In addition to the questions that you've prepared to ask your doctor, don't hesitate to ask questions during your appointment at any time that you don't understand something.
What to expect from your doctor
Tests and diagnosis
Your doctor will record a history of your condition and conduct a physical exam. The exam may include the following:
Treatments and drugs
Kyphosis treatment depends on the cause of the condition and the signs and symptoms that are present.
Less serious cases
More serious cases
When bracing is necessary
There are several types of braces for children who have kyphosis. Your doctor can help you decide which brace would be most effective for your child.
Children who wear braces usually have few restrictions and can participate in most activities. Although a brace may feel uncomfortable and awkward at first, it must be worn as prescribed to be effective. Once the bones are fully grown, your child can be weaned off the brace according to your doctor's instructions.
There are different types of braces for treating kyphosis in adults, varying from postural training devices to rigid body jackets. The goal of bracing in adults is typically to control pain.
When surgery is necessary
Surgery also may be recommended for an infant with congenital kyphosis, in order to straighten the spine.
The goal of surgery is to reduce the degree of curvature. This is commonly done by fusing or joining the affected vertebrae. Doctors typically perform the surgery through incisions in the back, during general anesthetic.
Fusing the vertebrae involves connecting two or more of them with pieces of bone taken from the pelvis. Eventually, the vertebrae fuse with the bone pieces to prevent further progression of the curvature. Doctors attach metal rods, hooks, screws or wires to the spine to hold the vertebrae together while the bones fuse, which may take several months. Doctors leave the metal in the body to help support the fused area even after the bones have fused.
A drawback of spinal fusion is that it stops growth in that area of the spine. A child's ultimate height isn't affected greatly because the leg bones and the unaffected portion of the spine continue to grow normally.
The complication rate for spinal surgery is relatively high. Complications include bleeding, infection, pain, nerve damage, arthritis and disk degeneration. If the surgery fails to correct the problem, a second surgery may be needed.
Coping and support
Adolescence is a time when young people are struggling with physical and emotional changes. Having a noticeable spinal deformity or wearing a brace can make this challenging time even more difficult.
Make sure your child has caring people to turn to, including supportive family and friends, or even a professional counselor, if necessary. Consider joining a support group for parents and kids with kyphosis or other spinal deformities to help you and your child connect with others facing similar challenges.
Last Updated: 2010-03-04
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