What is Kyphosis?
Kyphosis is the natural outward curve of the upper back, the thoracic spine. When looked at from the side the thoracic spine has a natural convex shape to it. This is called kyphosis. Anatomically speaking, a healthy spine should resemble the shape of a backwards ‘S.’ In order to attain this shape, the spine naturally has some curves in it. The inward curve of your low back is called lordosis. Travelling up the spine, the thoracic area curves out a little bit becoming convex. This curve is called kyphosis.
Some kyphosis in the upper region of your back is perfectly normal. When the kyphosis is exaggerated and excessive, it becomes a problem. A problem that can lead to other problems if not attended to. An exaggerated kyphotic curve is what is seen is severe Osteoporosis, causing a ‘humpback.’
The term ‘Kyphosis’ is used medically to describe both the normal curve of the spine, but it is also used as a diagnostic term when someone is having a problem with their thoracic spine. A person with hyper kyphosis will simply be diagnosed as having ‘Kyphosis’ although it is a term used to describe normal anatomy of the spine as well.
What Causes Kyphosis?
An excessive kyphotic curve can be caused from a variety of factors. The most common cause of this condition is Osteoporosis, which causes all bones in the body to become weak. Specifically, in the thoracic spine, this can lead to a collapsing of the vertebral bodies that make up the spine. The vertebrae generally will collapse anteriorly, meaning the front of the vertebral column, and will lose their shape and the support that they generally provide. The backside of the vertebral column maintains its shape in this instance and results in hyper kyphosis of the thoracic spine. This causes a forward hunched posture. Some other causes of this condition are:
- Degeneration from arthritis, or otherwise a normal wear and tear
- Poor posture
- Scheuermann’s Disease: a congenital condition that normally begins showing symptoms in adolescence
- Other congenital causes and conditions consisting of abnormal development of the spine
- Vitamin deficiencies
- Different autoimmune and systemic diseases that can lead to an excessive curve to your upper back over time
- Trauma such as car accidents
- Previous thoracic spinal fractures that have not healed properly
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What are Symptoms of Kyphosis?
Symptoms of excessive kyphosis may or may not be severe and may not require intervention if the discomfort of this condition is manageable and not causing significant dysfunction. Symptoms may include:
- Pain in the upper back
- The appearance of a hump on your thoracic spine and rounded shoulders
- Loss of range of motion of the back
- Breathing difficulties
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The treatments for an excessive kyphotic curve range from none at all to surgical intervention depending on how much pain, discomfort, and dysfunction that you are experiencing. These treatments include:
- Physical therapy in order to correct any muscular imbalances that may be present and restore strength, range of motion, and function
- Posture and body mechanics education, again with physical therapy
- A brace will sometimes be recommended, particularly for children and adolescents where the spine is still developing
- In severe cases where the amount of kyphosis is so great that it causes significant pain and disability, surgery such as a spinal fusion may be indicated