Kyphosis is an abnormal outward curving of the upper spine. It causes the back to appear more rounded than usual and may cause stiffness and back pain.
Normally, when looked at from the side, your upper spine curves only slightly outwards and your lower spine very slightly inwards.
If your spine bends to the left or right, it is known as scoliosis. Kyphosis and scoliosis can occur together.
Kyphosis can affect anyone and is often caused by bad posture or a structural problem with the spine. It is rare to be born with kyphosis.
Examples of structural problems are fractures to the vertebrae (back bones), which may be caused by osteoporosis, or a spine that has simply grown abnormally.
The symptoms of kyphosis are often mild and do not get any worse with time.
Common symptoms include:
- mild back pain
- fatigue (tiredness)
- tenderness and stiffness in your back
Your back will also appear slouched or hunched, depending on how severe the roundness of the spine is.
In very severe cases, kyphosis can cause breathing difficulties and problems with eating. If you have severe kyphosis, your symptoms may get worse with time.
Kyphosis is caused by:
- bad posture
- a structural problem with the spine
- surgery to the spine
Bad posture over a long period of time is a common cause of kyphosis. For example, if you slouch when you stand up, this stretches your spinal ligaments and can increase the natural curvature of your spine.
Postural kyphosis is more common in girls than boys and is slow to develop. It usually occurs during adolescence and generally will not get any worse with time.
There are several conditions that can affect the structure of the spine and cause kyphosis.
Kyphosis can be present at birth (congenital) when parts of the spine do not develop properly, though this is rare.
The structural problems that can lead to kyphosis are listed below.
Fractures Of The Vertebrae
Fractures can be caused by conditions that weaken the vertebrae (the small bones that make up the spine), such as osteoporosis. If the fractures are uneven, they can cause the spine to curve.
Spondylolisthesis is where one vertebra slips out of place. It can be caused by a birth defect or a disease such as arthritis.
Sometimes, kyphosis can be caused by a problem with the way the spine grows. The back of the vertebrae in the upper part of the spine grow more quickly than the front, making each vertebra grow into a wedge shape. When several vertebrae wedge together in a row, it causes a curve in the spine. This usually develops in adolescents whose bones are still growing. It is sometimes referred to as Scheuermann’s disease and the cause is unknown.
Surgery To The Spine
Occasionally, kyphosis can be caused by surgery to the spine. For example, the spine may curve abnormally after an operation to remove some of the bone surrounding the spine.
Can It Be Treated?
Treatment of kyphosis depends on the cause and whether there are any symptoms, although it is often not necessary. Kyphosis caused by poor posture will get better on its own with time. Mild cases of kyphosis may need to be treated with back braces and physiotherapy.
Some types of kyphosis cannot be prevented, for example kyphosis caused by arthritis or congenital kyphosis (present at birth).
Kyphosis caused by poor posture can be prevented and you can lower your chances of getting osteoporosis, which may prevent osteoporosis-related kyphosis.
Having good posture when you stand up and while you are sitting down can prevent postural kyphosis. Keep your back and neck straight and avoid slouching.
Osteoporosis is a major cause of kyphosis. You can cut your chances of getting osteoporosis by doing regular exercise to strengthen your bones and muscles and by eating a diet rich in calcium.
For women who have gone through the menopause, hormone replacement therapy (HRT) can reduce the chances of getting osteoporosis.