Kyphosis is a curvature of the upper portion of the spine, measuring 50 degrees or greater when viewed from the side. A normal spine can bend between 20 and 45 degrees in the upper back area when viewed from the side and is usually straight when viewed from behind. A spine affected by kyphosis shows a forward curvature of the back bones or vertebrae in the upper back area, giving an abnormally rounded or “humpback” appearance. Kyphosis can happen at any stage of life but rarely occurs at birth.
Types of kyphosis
Kyphosis is a spinal deformity that can happen during the formation of the spine. It can also be a result of an injury or disease. Common forms of kyphosis include:
- Postural kyphosis – A round, smooth hump in the back that is related to poor posture.
- Cervical kyphosis – A “C” shaped curvature that is localized to the vertebrae in the neck.
- Kyphosis lordsis – Also called a swayback, the spine of someone with lordsis curves inward at the lower back.
Kyphosis in adults
In adults, the causes of kyphosis are numerous and include:
- Injury – Trauma to the spine can induce kyphosis.
- Degenerative disease – Diseases such as arthritis or osteoporosis, which wear down the bones in the spine, can make the spine more vulnerable to kyphosis.
- Fractures – Cracks and breaks in the bones of the spine can lead to kyphosis if left untreated. Any abnormality in the spine can possibly lead to this spine deformity.
- Spondylolisthesis – Vertebrae in the lower (lumbar) spine slip out of position onto the vertebrae below. Left untreated, this condition can eventually lead to abnormal curvature of the spine.
- Endocrine disease – A disorder of the endocrine system such as diabetes or thyroid disease.
- Connective tissue disorder – Certain connective tissue disorders can affect the tissue around the spine, making it more vulnerable to spinal deformity.
- Infections – Infections can be caused by diseases like tuberculosis and the resulting bacteria can affect the lungs, bones, and brain.
- Muscular dystrophy – An inherited disorder that involves muscle weakness and loss of muscle tissue.
- Neurofibromatosis – A genetic disorder that causes tumors to grow in the nervous system.
- Paget’s disease – A bone disease that causes bones to grow too large and weak.
- Polio – A viral disease that affects nerves and can eventually lead to partial or complete paralysis.
- Spina bifida – A birth defect that prevents the spinal canal and backbone from closing before birth. In some cases, it causes the spine and the surrounding tissues to protrude from the infant's back.
- Tumors – Abnormal growths in the spine.
Kyphosis in adolescents
Scheuermann's kyphosis develops without a known cause during adolescence and results from the melding or wedging of several vertebrae in the spine.
Initially, your doctor will provide a physical examination and gather your medical history. During the physical exam, he or she will confirm the abnormal curve of the spine and check for neurological changes such as weakness, paralysis or changes in sensation below the curve. More thorough tests may include:
- Spine X-ray
- Pulmonary function test – If kyphosis affects your breathing
- Magnetic resonance imaging test (MRI) – If your doctor has confirmed neurological changes during the physical exam, this diagnostic imaging procedure may be used to determine the cause. Tumors, infections and other neurological causes can be detected with an MRI.
Treatment for kyphosis can vary depending on the severity of your condition. The focus of treatment will be on correcting the underlying issues that caused the spinal deformity. Corrective measures range from back braces and therapy for Scheuermann’s disease to corrective surgery such as kyphoplasty or spinal fusion surgery.