Often known as being round back or hunchback, kyphosis is a rounding of your upper back that is excessive, usually more than 50 degrees. Though the spine may look entirely normal, a hump can develop for any number of reasons, from degenerative diseases such as arthritis to osteoporosis. It can also be caused by an injury or trauma to the spine. Kyphosis affects all ages.
If the condition is mild, you may experience little to no health problems. But if kyphosis is severe it can affect your heart, lungs and other organs and cause pain.
Indications that you have kyphosis can include mild back pain, a stiffness or tenderness in the spine, fatigue, a slouching posture or a hunchback. Because kyphosis can have no symptoms at all, especially in the early stages, a physical exam or even a scoliosis screening may not identify the condition. Often, kyphosis needs to be in a more advanced stage to be easily recognized.
If you see signs of kyphosis, such as pain or a rounding of the shoulders, you will want to see your doctor. Though rare, it can lead to complications with the internal organs and cause difficulties breathing.
Your doctor will take a complete medical history first, then conduct a thorough physical exam. This may include performing a forward bend test, pulmonary function test and neurological function test and ordering x-rays to confirm the diagnosis and assess the degree of curvature and any deformity in the vertebrae.
In cases of postural kyphosis, the condition may improve on its own, especially if exercises are prescribed to strengthen back muscles and you are properly trained to have correct posture. Over-the-counter pain relievers can ease some of the discomfort you’re experiencing.
With structural kyphosis, treatment will depend on your age and sex and how rigid the curve is. In some cases, monitoring the progression may be all that’s needed, especially if you have no other symptoms. Anti-inflammatory medications can also help reduce pain. If the kyphosis is osteoporosis-related, treatment may range from doing nothing to monitoring the situation for fractures or a worsening of kyphosis.
In extreme cases, kyphosis may require more aggressive treatment, including the use of bracing or as a last resort, surgery.
Your doctor at the Florida Hospital Celebration Health Spine Center may recommend surgery if the curvature doesn’t respond to other treatment strategies, if there are neurological issues such as paralysis, if pain doesn’t respond to pain management techniques and becomes debilitating or if the kyphosis is related to a tumor or infection.
The main goal of any surgery is to reduce the degree of curvature. This is usually accomplished from a procedure that fuses two or more vertebrae together to provide stability and straighten the spine to a more normal position. Procedures may include a kyphoplasty, which was specifically created to address kyphosis-related fractures.