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Understanding kyphosis

Kyphosis is an abnormal curvature of the spine that causes a forward rounding of the upper back. This condition can vary in severity, ranging from mild to severe curvature, and it can affect people of all ages. Kyphosis can be classified into different types, including:

  • Postural kyphosis, which is often related to poor posture

  • Structural kyphosis, which can result from conditions such as Scheuermann's disease, osteoporosis, or congenital abnormalities


Kyphosis causes

  • Poor posture: Habitual slouching or sitting with rounded shoulders can contribute to the development of kyphosis, known as postural kyphosis.

  • Scheuermann's Disease: This condition typically develops during adolescence and is characterized by abnormal growth of the vertebrae, leading to exaggerated kyphosis.

  • Congenital defects: Some individuals may be born with spinal abnormalities that result in kyphosis.

  • Osteoporosis: Weakening of the bones due to osteoporosis can lead to compression fractures in the spine, resulting in kyphosis, especially in older adults.

  • Degenerative disc disease: Wear and tear on the spinal discs over time can cause them to lose height, leading to spinal misalignment and kyphosis.

  • Spinal injuries: Traumatic injuries to the spine, such as fractures or dislocations, can result in kyphosis.

  • Neuromuscular conditions: Certain neuromuscular disorders, such as muscular dystrophy or cerebral palsy, can affect muscle strength and spinal stability, potentially leading to kyphosis.


Understanding the underlying cause of kyphosis is crucial for determining the most appropriate treatment and management approach. Consulting with a St. Luke’s Health orthopedic specialist is essential for accurate diagnosis and personalized treatment planning.

Kyphosis symptoms

  • Visible curvature: A noticeable rounding of the upper back, giving the appearance of a hump or hunchback.

  • Back pain or stiffness: Discomfort or stiffness in the back, particularly in the upper back region.

  • Fatigue: Feeling tired or fatigued, especially after prolonged periods of standing or sitting.

  • Muscle imbalance: Weakness or imbalance in the muscles supporting the spine, which can contribute to postural changes and discomfort.

  • Limited mobility: Difficulty bending or rotating the spine, leading to reduced flexibility and range of motion.

  • Breathing difficulties: In severe cases where kyphosis compresses the chest cavity, breathing difficulties may occur.

  • Neurological symptoms: Rarely, severe kyphosis can cause compression of the spinal cord or nerve roots, leading to symptoms such as numbness, tingling, weakness, or loss of bowel or bladder control.

  • Changes in appearance: Besides the visible curvature, kyphosis may cause changes in posture and overall body alignment.


Kyphosis treatment options

Treatment for kyphosis depends on several factors, including the severity of the curvature, the underlying cause, and the individual's overall health. Here are some common approaches to treating kyphosis:

  • Posture correction: For mild cases of kyphosis, improving posture through exercises and ergonomic adjustments may be sufficient. Physical therapy can help strengthen muscles and improve spinal alignment.

  • Bracing: In some cases, especially for adolescents with Scheuermann's kyphosis or mild structural kyphosis, wearing a back brace may help prevent further curvature progression during growth spurts.

  • Pain management: Over-the-counter pain relievers or prescription medications may be used to alleviate discomfort associated with kyphosis. Physical therapy techniques, such as massage or heat therapy, can also provide relief.

  • Exercise: Specific exercises targeting core strength, flexibility, and postural alignment can help manage symptoms and improve spinal stability. These exercises are often prescribed by physical therapists or chiropractors.

  • Surgery: In severe cases of kyphosis where conservative treatments are ineffective or when neurological symptoms are present, surgery may be recommended. Surgical procedures aim to correct the spinal curvature, stabilize the spine, and relieve pressure on the spinal cord or nerves.

  • Lifestyle modifications: Adopting a healthy lifestyle, including regular exercise, maintaining a healthy weight, and avoiding activities that strain the spine, can help prevent kyphosis progression and improve overall spinal health.

  • Management of underlying conditions: If kyphosis is caused by conditions such as osteoporosis or neuromuscular disorders, managing these underlying conditions is essential for preventing further spinal deformity.


Spine health tips

Maintaining spinal health is crucial for overall well-being and can help prevent conditions like kyphosis. Here are some tips for keeping your spine healthy:

  • Practice good posture: Be mindful of your posture throughout the day, whether sitting, standing, or walking. Keep your back straight, shoulders back, and head aligned with your spine.

  • Stay active: Engage in regular physical activity to strengthen the muscles supporting your spine and improve flexibility. Activities like walking, swimming, yoga, or Pilates are beneficial for spinal health.

  • Use ergonomic furniture: Invest in ergonomic chairs, desks, and other furniture that support proper spinal alignment, especially if you spend long hours sitting at a desk or computer.

  • Lift properly: When lifting heavy objects, bend your knees and keep your back straight. Avoid twisting your spine while lifting and use your legs to lift the weight, rather than relying solely on your back muscles.

  • Maintain a healthy weight: Excess weight can put strain on the spine and increase the risk of developing spinal conditions. Maintain a healthy diet and exercise regularly to achieve and maintain a healthy weight.

  • Quit smoking: Smoking can contribute to spinal disc degeneration and impair blood flow to the spine, leading to increased risk of back pain and spinal conditions. Quitting smoking can improve spinal health.

  • Stay hydrated: Drink plenty of water to keep your spinal discs hydrated and maintain their elasticity. Dehydration can lead to reduced disc height and increased risk of disc-related issues.

  • Practice stress management: Chronic stress can cause muscle tension and exacerbate back pain. Practice relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, meditation, or yoga to reduce stress and tension in the muscles supporting your spine.

  • Get regular check-ups: Visit your primary care provider or orthopedist regularly for preventive care and to address any spinal concerns promptly. Early detection and treatment of spinal issues can prevent them from progressing into more serious conditions.


By incorporating these tips into your daily routine, you can promote spinal health and reduce the risk of developing spinal conditions like kyphosis.

Can kyphosis be reversed?

The extent to which kyphosis can be reversed depends on several factors, including the severity of the curvature, the underlying cause, and the individual's age and overall health. In some cases, especially in adolescents with mild kyphosis or when the curvature is primarily due to poor posture, it may be possible to improve or partially reverse the condition through conservative treatments such as physical therapy, exercises to strengthen muscles supporting the spine, and posture correction.

However, in cases of structural kyphosis caused by conditions like Scheuermann's disease, congenital abnormalities, or severe osteoporosis-related compression fractures, complete reversal of the curvature may not be achievable through conservative measures alone. In such instances, surgical intervention may be necessary to correct the spinal deformity, stabilize the spine, and relieve pressure on the spinal cord or nerves.

It's important to consult with a St. Luke’s Health provider, such as an orthopedic surgeon or spine specialist, to determine the most appropriate treatment approach based on the individual's specific condition and needs. Early diagnosis and intervention can help prevent further progression of kyphosis and improve outcomes.

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