What is Kyphosis?Conditions
Kyphosis is a spinal condition also referred to as “round back” or “hunchback.” It is characterized by an excessive curvature in the upper back.
The spine has a natural curve that helps absorb shock and supports the head. A person with kyphosis has a curve much larger than normal and creates a noticeable hump on the upper back. Kyphosis can occur at any age but tends to mostly affect older women. Osteoporosis and other age-related conditions that weaken or shift the spine can cause kyphosis.
Kyphosis causes back pain because of the pressure it puts on the spine and the pain can range from mild to severe depending on the severity of the curve. In severe cases, kyphosis can cause breathing difficulties by putting pressure on the lungs.
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Kyphosis Causes and Risk Factors
There are several causes of kyphosis, including:
- Osteoporosis – This bone-thinning condition commonly affects older adults, mostly women. As the bone weakens the risk of compression fractures increases.
- Degenerative disc disease – The vertebrae are cushioned by discs that absorb the shock of our movements. As we age, these gel-filled discs lose water and shrink.
- Congenital defects – Sometimes the spinal column or the bones doesn’t develop properly in the womb.
- Scheuermann’s disease – This disease often begins just before puberty, affecting more boys than girls. It is the leading cause of back pain in adolescents. The curvature of the spine often worsens as the child ages.
- Spondylolisthesis – In this spinal condition one vertebra slips forward over the vertebra below.
- Poor posture – Postural kyphosis results from poor posture over a prolonged period, such as from slouching.
- Injury – Referred to as post-traumatic kyphosis, this type of kyphosis is the result of injury or trauma to the spine.
Other kyphosis causes are conditions and medications that weaken the bones of the spine such as cancer and some cancer treatments. Prolonged use of steroid medication can also weaken the bones of the spine.
The symptoms of kyphosis can vary from person to person based on the severity of the curvature of the spine and the causes of kyphosis. In mild cases, a person may not have any symptoms other than the deformation of the spine. In more severe cases, kyphosis symptoms may include:
- Pain, especially in the curvature of the spine
- Tingling, numbness or weakness in the legs if pressure on the spine is causing nerve compression
- Breathing difficulties
- Heart problems
Kyphosis Treatment Options
Kyphosis treatment varies based on its causes. For instance, if kyphosis is caused by osteoporosis, treating the osteoporosis could slow the progression of kyphosis and relieve or prevent symptoms.
Conservative treatment for kyphosis is always the preferred first step. For many, the symptoms of kyphosis can be relieved by a combination of nonsurgical treatment, including:
- Pain medication – Over-the-counter (OTC) pain medications can help relieve mild to moderate pain. Prescription medication may be given if OTC medication doesn’t provide enough relief.
- Exercise – Stretching exercises can improve flexibility and help with stiffness. Strengthening exercises that focus on the back and abdominal muscles can help support the spine and improve posture. Working with a physical therapist can be beneficial for learning techniques for better posture.
- Bracing – A back brace may help a child slow the progression of kyphosis. In adults, back braces can help relieve pain by supporting the spine, but will not change the shape of the spine.
- Weight control – Maintaining a healthy weight can help relieve back pain from kyphosis by lowering the amount of stress on the spine.
- Better bone health – There are things that you can do to help keep your bones strong, such as getting enough calcium and vitamin D, as well as regular bone density screening.
When conservative treatments don’t provide enough relief from your kyphosis symptoms or if the curvature of your spine is severe, surgical treatment for kyphosis is the next step.
There are several surgical procedures that can be used to treat kyphosis and the type used will depend on factors such as the severity of your condition and any other spinal conditions and injury that may have resulted from your kyphosis.
The goals of surgical treatment for kyphosis include:
- Reducing the curve in the spine as much as possible
- Stopping the progression of the curvature
- Removing stress off the spinal cord and nerves
Surgical kyphosis treatment is likely to include multiple procedures to repair damaged spinal discs, bone spurs, and compression fractures. Spinal fusion to stabilize the spine is also an important part of treating kyphosis. Most of these procedures can be performed using minimally invasive techniques that offer a much quicker recovery and less scarring than traditional open spine surgery.
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