What is kyphosis?

Kyphosis is a spinal condition in which an excessive outward curve in the spine causes the upper back (typically thoracic spine) to be overly rounded. This curvature can cause a hunched or slouching appearance that is commonly referred to as hunchback or roundback.

Kyphosis can cause people to worry about their appearance, but most cases are not serious enough to cause problems or need medical treatment or surgery. In more severe cases, people may have pain or trouble breathing. Kyphosis occurs more often among teenagers, but it can develop at any time.

What are the types of kyphosis?

The most common types of kyphosis are postural kyphosis, Scheuermann’s kyphosis, and congenital kyphosis:

  • Postural kyphosis: Postural kyphosis, the most common type, usually shows up during the teenage years. Slouching or poor posture may cause more rounding in the spine than is normal, but the curve is flexible (the curvature goes away when you change your position).
    More girls get postural kyphosis than boys. In most cases, it does not cause pain or other problems.
  • Scheuermann’s kyphosis: Scheuermann’s kyphosis (named for the doctor who first identified the condition) tends to appear most often in teens. It affects more males than females.
    Scheuermann’s kyphosis happens when the bones (vertebrae) in the spine, which are normally shaped like a rectangle, are shaped more like a wedge shape. This shape causes the bones to curve forward, which makes the spine appear rounded.
  • Congenital kyphosis: Congenital is a term that refers to a condition you are born with. People with congenital kyphosis are born with a spine that did not develop normally before birth.
    Depending on which part of the spine is affected, the kyphosis can get worse as the child grows. Congenital kyphosis is the type that is most likely to need surgery.

What are the symptoms of kyphosis?

Most people who have kyphosis have no symptoms other than rounded shoulders or a hump in the upper back. The greater the curve, the more likely it is that the person will have other symptoms. These can include:

  • Pain or stiffness in the back and/or shoulder blades.
  • Numb, weak, or tingling legs.
  • Extreme fatigue.
  • Poor posture.
  • Shortness of breath or other breathing difficulties.

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 12/05/2017.

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