What to know about kyphosis – Medical News
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What to know about kyphosis

Kyphosis is an abnormal rounding of the upper back. It is a relatively common condition that often develops in adolescence or young adulthood.

Having a small curve in the upper back is normal. Kyphosis is an excessive spinal curve that can cause discomfort and lasting issues throughout the body. Poor posture, abnormalities in the spine, or age-related weakness, can cause kyphosis.

This article looks at the symptoms, causes, and treatments for kyphosis. It also outlines some exercises to help treat the condition.

Symptoms

What To Know About Kyphosis
Symptoms of kyphosis can include back pain and stiffness in the upper back.

The primary symptom of kyphosis is an abnormal forward curve in the upper part of the spine. It causes the upper back to appear hunched over, with the shoulders rounded forward.

In mild cases, the spinal curve is not always noticeable. In other instances, a person may look as if they are bending forwards.

Kyphosis often occurs without any other symptoms. However, other symptoms can include:

  • back pain
  • stiffness in the upper back
  • a rounded back
  • tight hamstrings

Causes

The spine comprises bones called vertebrae that stack on top of each other. This structure is unique in the body and allows the spine to be supportive as well as flexible. It also means the spine is particularly vulnerable to damage.

Kyphosis occurs when the vertebrae in the upper part of the back, called the thoracic region, become wedge-shaped. This causes the spine to curve forward more than usual.

This can happen due to:

  • poor posture
  • developmental issues
  • older age
  • abnormal vertebrae shape

Who gets kyphosis?

Kyphosis is a fairly common condition that usually affects adolescents and adults. Some types of kyphosis can occur from birth, but this is rare.

Poor posture is a risk factor for developing some types of kyphosis. This means that kyphosis is more likely to occur in people who adopt a poor posture for long periods, such as frequently working at a computer.

Types of kyphosis

There are several types of kyphosis, including:

  • Postural kyphosis. This is the most common form of kyphosis. It often occurs in adolescents, when the spine and surrounding muscles develop abnormally. This can be a result of poor posture.
  • Scheuermann’s kyphosis. This also tends to develop during adolescence, but it can become more severe than postural kyphosis. Doctors do not know what causes this form of kyphosis.
  • Congenital kyphosis. This occurs when the spine does not develop properly in the womb, causing kyphosis at birth. It can rapidly worsen with age.

Complications

Complications with kyphosis can occur in more severe cases. These include:

  • an irreversible hunch in the back
  • persistent back pain
  • weakness or numbness in the arms and legs
  • breathing difficulties
  • loss of bladder control

Treatments

Treatment will focus on preventing the curve from worsening and restoring normal posture where possible.

Treatment for kyphosis depends on the type and severity of the curve. A doctor will perform physical exams and look at scans to work out the type and severity of a person’s kyphosis to determine the best treatment.

Nonsurgical treatment

Kyphosis brace <br>Image credit: Dr. Weiß, 2010</br> - What To Know About Kyphosis
Doctors may recommend a brace for Scheuermann’s kyphosis.
Image credit: Dr. Weiß, 2010

Treatment often includes physical therapy to strengthen the back and abdominal muscles. This will relieve pressure on the spine, helping to improve posture and reduce discomfort.

Doctors usually recommend that people with postural and Scheuermann’s kyphosis receive non-surgical forms of treatment.

In some cases of Scheuermann’s kyphosis, a doctor may recommend a spinal brace. The brace will support the spine to grow into the correct posture. Braces are only useful if the spine is still growing.

Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can help reduce any discomfort with kyphosis.

Surgical treatment

People with congenital kyphosis or severe forms of postural or Scheuermann’s kyphosis who have not responded to treatment may benefit from surgery.

The type of surgery varies from person to person. A common type of surgery for kyphosis is a spinal fusion. This involves welding several vertebrae together to form a single segment of bone.

Other surgical procedures for severe kyphosis involve inserting rods, metal screws, and plates into the spine. This helps to stabilize the spine and increase the rate of fusion of bone grafting. This can reduce curvature in the upper spine and correct posture.

Exercises for kyphosis

A physiotherapist can recommend exercises and stretches to strengthen the back and abdominal muscles, such as:

Knee rolls

  • Lie on the floor with the knees bent and feet flat on the floor.
  • Move the knees slowly to one side until the back feels tense.
  • Repeat at least five times on each side.

Pelvic tilting

  • Lie on the floor with the knees bent and feet flat on the floor.
  • Slowly arch the back, keeping the buttocks and upper back flat on the ground.
  • Hold the arch for a few seconds before returning to a fully flat position.
  • Repeat at least five times.

Knees to chest

  • Laying in the same position as the previous two exercises, bring one knee up towards the chest.
  • Clasp the hands around the knee and gently pull the knee closer to the chest.
  • Hold this position for a few seconds, then release.
  • Repeat at least five times on each leg.

Diagnosis

Kyphosis infographic - What To Know About Kyphosis
A doctor will perform a physical exam to diagnose kyphosis.

A doctor will diagnose kyphosis by performing a physical exam and assessing a person’s medical history.

The doctor may ask a person to do several exercises or stretches to assess how the condition affects their balance and range of motion.

Another common test involves laying on a flat surface while a doctor examines the spine. If the spine straightens out, this indicates it is flexible, and the cause is likely to be poor posture. If the spine remains curved, it is likely to be another form of kyphosis.

The doctor may take an X-ray to look at the structure of the vertebrae. In more severe cases, they may order other tests, such as a blood test or a lung function test.

When to see a doctor

In cases where the spine is noticeably curved, it is essential to visit a doctor. Not all instances of kyphosis have visible symptoms, however. In such cases, look out for:

  • persistent back pain
  • stiffness in the back
  • tightness in the hamstrings
  • signs of fever
  • breathing difficulties

Prevention

People can sometimes prevent cases of kyphosis by maintaining good posture and back health. Tips for preventing kyphosis include:

  • exercising regularly
  • avoiding slouching
  • using orthopedic equipment when using a desk, or computer
  • using well-designed backpacks that spread the weight evenly across the back

Summary

Kyphosis is where the upper back becomes hunched due to an abnormally curved spine.

There are several types of kyphosis that have different causes. A common and preventable cause is poor posture.

Doctors can often effectively treat kyphosis through a combination of non-surgical options. Specific exercises for strengthening the back and abdomen can help to reduce discomfort and improve posture.

In more severe cases, a doctor may recommend surgery to correct a person’s posture. If left untreated, kyphosis can cause severe damage to the spine and other areas of the body.

The best methods for preventing kyphosis involve maintaining good posture.

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