What Is Kyphosis?

Kyphosis, also known as a round back or hunchback, is a condition in which the spine in the upper back has an excessive curvature. The upper back, or thoracic region of the spine, is supposed to have a slight natural curve. The spine naturally curves in the neck, upper back, and lower back to help absorb shock and support the weight of the head. Kyphosis occurs when this natural arch is larger than normal.

If you have kyphosis, you may have a visible hump on your upper back. From the side, your upper back may be noticeably rounded or protruding. In addition, people with hunchback appear to be slouching and have noticeable rounding of the shoulders. Kyphosis can lead to excess pressure on the spine, causing pain. It may also cause breathing difficulties due to pressure put on the lungs.

Kyphosis in elderly women is known as dowager’s hump.

Common Causes of Kyphosis

Kyphosis can affect people of any age. However, it rarely occurs in newborns because it is usually caused by poor posture. Kyphosis caused by poor posture is called postural kyphosis.

Other potential causes of kyphosis include:

  • aging (especially if you have poor posture)
  • muscle weakness in the upper back
  • Scheuermann’s disease (occurs in children and has no known cause)
  • arthritis or other bone degeneration diseases
  • osteoporosis (loss of bone strength due to age)
  • injury to the spine
  • slipped discs
  • scoliosis (spinal curvature)

Less commonly, the following may also lead to kyphosis:

  • infection in the spine
  • birth defects, such as spina bifida
  • tumors
  • diseases of the endocrine system
  • diseases of the connective tissues
  • polio
  • Paget’s disease
  • muscular dystrophy

When to Seek Treatment for Kyphosis

You should seek treatment if your kyphosis is accompanied by:

  • pain
  • breathing difficulties
  • fatigue

Much of our flexibility, mobility, and activity depend on the health of the spine. Getting treatment to help correct the curvature may help you reduce the risk of complications later in life, such as arthritis and back pain.

Treating Kyphosis

Treatment for kyphosis will depend on its severity and underlying cause. In the case of Scheuermann’s disease, a child may receive physical therapy, braces, or corrective surgery. In cases of infection, patients take antibiotics. In cases of tumors, surgical removal is likely. For osteoporosis, it may be helpful to treat the bone deterioration to prevent kyphosis from worsening.

For kyphosis caused by poor posture, you will not need aggressive treatments. However, the following will help relieve the symptoms of kyphosis:

  • medication for pain
  • physical therapy (to help build strength in the core and back muscles)
  • yoga (to increase body awareness and build strength, flexibility, and range of motion)
  • weight loss
  • braces (in children and teens)
  • chiropractic treatments (to correct the spinal alignment)
  • surgery (in severe cases)

Risks of Untreated Kyphosis

For most people, kyphosis does not cause serious health problems. This is dependent on the cause of the kyphosis, however. If kyphosis is caused by poor posture, you may suffer from pain and breathing difficulties. These will only get worse later in life.

Treating kyphosis early by strengthening the muscles of the back, seeing a physical therapist, or receiving chiropractic adjustments may be helpful. To decrease pain and other symptoms, the goal will be to improve your posture long-term.