What Is Kyphosis? - Definition, Causes & Treatment

Instructor: Danielle Haak

Danielle has a PhD in Natural Resource Sciences and a MSc in Biological Sciences

What is kyphosis? Who is most likely to develop kyphosis? Read this lesson to learn what part of your body is affected by kyphosis, the causes and symptoms of kyphosis, and how to treat it.

What Is Kyphosis?

Kyphosis is the unnatural forward curvature of the spine. A moderate amount of curving is normal, but kyphosis results in excessive rounding. It is most commonly found in older women but can be found in individuals of any age.

The image on the right depicts a person suffering from kyphosis.

Causes of Kyphosis

A normal spine is composed of vertebrae stacked in a mostly-straight line. The upper vertebrae in a person with kyphosis becomes wedge-shaped, causing the top of the spine to curve forward. This deformation may be caused by:

  • Osteoporosis
  • Disc degeneration
  • Scheuermann's disease
  • Birth defects
  • Prader-Willi disease or Marfan syndrome
  • Cancer and cancer treatments

An exaggerated curve in the spine can also be caused by bad posture over an extended period of time (postural kyphosis). This is most common in teenagers and usually doesn't cause any long-term deformities of the spine.

Symptoms of Kyphosis

Though the exaggerated forward curvature of the spine is the primary symptom of kyphosis, someone with the condition may also experience back pain and stiffness. Complications associated with kyphosis include poor body image (especially common among teens who have to wear a back brace to correct the curvature) and a decrease in appetite (due to compression on the abdomen).

Treatment Options

The first step is diagnosing kyphosis. A physician will most likely have the patient bend forward, as any over-curvature will be obvious in this position. Imaging tests, such as a CT scan, MRI scan, and X-rays may also be used to observe the severity of the curve. An MRI scan specifically allows for the detection of a tumor, which may be the cause of the exaggerated curvature. Finally, testing the nerve pathways may also be done.

Once kyphosis has been diagnosed, prescription drugs or treatments may be recommended. Drugs help decrease further bone density loss due to osteoporosis and can help lessen any pain associated with the condition. In some cases, therapy is the best option. Therapy can include wearing a back brace to correct the spine as it grows, exercises that promote stretching and lengthening of the spine, maintaining a healthy lifestyle by consuming a balanced diet and staying physically active, and ensuring adequate intake of vitamin D and calcium to maintain strong bone health. Severe cases of kyphosis may require surgery to lessen the severity of the curve.

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