What is kyphosis?

Kyphosis is a spinal condition. In people with kyphosis, the spine curves outward more than it should. As a result, the upper back looks overly rounded. The curvature can make people looked hunched or slouching. People sometimes call it hunchback or round back.

The spine has natural curves. These curves support our posture and help us stand straight. But excessive curvature can affect posture and make standing difficult.

How will kyphosis affect me?

Most of the time, kyphosis doesn’t cause health problems or need medical treatment. But it may make you feel self-conscious about how you look. In severe cases, kyphosis can cause pain or breathing problems. Severe kyphosis may require surgery to correct.

Who gets kyphosis?

Kyphosis appears more often in teenagers, whose bones are growing rapidly. But it can develop any me. It may also develop in older adults. As people age, the vertebrae lose flexibility, and the spine may begin to tilt forward.

What are the types of kyphosis?

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

What is postural kyphosis?

The most common type of kyphosis, postural kyphosis usually happens during the teenage years. Slouching or poor posture stretches the ligaments and muscles holding the vertebrae (spinal bones) in place. That stretching pulls the vertebrae out of their normal position, causing a rounded shape in the spine.

Postural kyphosis:

  • Has a flexible curve — changing position changes the curvature.
  • Happens to teenagers and affects girls more than boys.
  • Doesn’t usually cause pain or problems.

What is Scheuermann’s kyphosis?

This type is named after the radiologist who first identified the condition. It happens when the vertebrae have a different shape. Instead of being rectangular, the vertebrae have a wedge shape. The wedge-shaped bones curve forward, making the spine look rounded.

Scheuermann’s kyphosis:

  • Appears more often in teens and affects boys more than girls.
  • Can be more severe than postural kyphosis, especially in people below average weight.
  • Causes a rigid, not flexible, curve — changing position won’t change the curve.
  • Can be painful, especially during activity or when standing or sitting for a long me.

What is congenital kyphosis?

Congenital means a condition you are born with. People with congenital kyphosis were born with a spine that didn’t develop properly before birth.

Congenital kyphosis:

  • Can get worse as a child grows.
  • Typically needs surgery at a young age to stop the curve from getting worse.
  • May be present along with other birth defects that affect the heart and kidneys.

How common is kyphosis?

Kyphosis happens in about 0.04% to 10% of school-age kids (up to one in 10 children, or as many as 5.6 million in the U.S.). Scheuermann’s kyphosis makes up most of those cases. Most people with kyphosis receive a diagnosis when they are 12 to 17 years old. Boys have Scheuermann’s kyphosis about twice as ofen as girls do.

What causes kyphosis?

The cause of kyphosis depends on the type:

  • Postural: Poor posture, leaning back in chairs, carrying heavy bags.
  • Scheuermann’s: Problem in the spine’s structure.
  • Congenital: Problem that developed in the spine before birth.

Other causes of kyphosis include:

  • Age, since the spine starts to curve more as people get older.
  • Spinal injury.

What are symptoms of kyphosis?

The main symptom of kyphosis is having rounded shoulders or a hump in the upper back. Tight hamstrings (muscles in the back of the thigh) can also be a symptom.

People who have a more severe curve may have other symptoms, including:

  • Pain or stiffness in the back and shoulder blades.
  • Numb, weak tingling legs.
  • Extreme fatigue.
  • Shortness of breath or other breathing trouble due to the spine pressing against the airways.
  • Balance problems.
  • Bladder incontinence or bowel incontinence.

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 11/06/2020.

References

  • American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. Kyphosis (Roundback) of the Spine. Accessed 10/5/2020.
  • Mansfield JT, Bennett M. Scheuermann Disease. [Updated 2020 Aug 15]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2020 Jan-.
  • NHS. Kyphosis. Accessed 10/5/2020.
  • Parvizi J and Kim GK. Kyphosis. In: Parvizi J, Ed. High-Yield Orthopaedics. Philadelphia, PA:Elsevier; 2010:266-267.
  • Pediatric Orthopaedic Society of North America. Kyphosis. Accessed 10/5/2020.

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