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Kyphosis (Hunchback) of the Spine

Spine Disorder Treatment in Orange County

Kyphosis causes pronounced curvature of the spine and an abnormal upper-back rounding (a “hunchback” or “roundback”). Kyphosis can occur at any age, but is most common in older women. It is also common during adolescence due to their bodily changes during puberty, including rapid bone growth.

Most kyphosis patients have few symptoms other than the spinal deformity, and require few treatments, if any, to live a healthy life. However, a patient may wear a back brace or do exercises that will potentially improve their posture and strengthen the spine. In more severe cases, kyphosis can be debilitating and cause such extensive deformity that the patient has trouble breathing.

Symptoms of kyphosis vary from patient to patient, but may include:

  • Rounded shoulders
  • A visible hump on the back “humpback”
  • Mild back pain
  • Fatigue
  • Stiffness
  • Tight muscles in the back of the thighs (hamstrings)

In more severe cases of kyphosis, the individual will suffer from leg weakness, numbness, and tingling, as well as breathing difficulties.

Anatomy of the Spine

To better understand kyphosis, it helps to understand the spinal anatomy. The spine has 3 segments that form 3 natural curves that look like an “S” when attached. The “C-shaped” curves of the neck and lower back are called lordosis, but a reversed “c-shaped” curve of the chest, called the thoracic spine, is the definition of kyphosis.

In a typical person, the thoracic spine has a natural kyphosis between 20 to 45 degrees, while the medical term for a curve that is far outside the typical range – often more than 50 degrees, is actually “hyperkyphosis,” the term “kyphosis” is more commonly used by spine surgeons to refer to this clinical condition.

Diagnosis of Kyphosis

During a physical exam, the doctor will ask the patient to lean forward with both feet together with knees touching as the arms hang free. This enables the orthopedist to view the spinal slope and observe any deformities present.

The orthopedist will likely order several imaging tests to provide images of dense structures via X-rays, to see the spine from different angles to check if there are vertebral changes or other bony abnormalities. The X-ray imaging will also measure the degree of the spinal curve, as a curve higher than 50 degrees is considered abnormal.

Pulmonary function tests will be necessary for patients with severe kyphosis and will help determine if the patient has difficulty breathing because their spinal column is causing diminished lung capacity.

Types of Kyphosis

There are several types of kyphosis, however, the three most common are:

  • Postural Kyphosis: The most common type of kyphosis becomes noticeable during adolescence. It is considered to be poor posture or slouching and is not associated to significant structural deformities in the spine. This type of kyphosis often improves with exercises
  • Scheuermann’s Kyphosis: This also becomes apparent during the teen years; however, it is associated with significant spinal deformities – especially in thin patients.
  • Congenital Kyphosis: Is present at birth and occurs when the spinal column fails to develop normally while the baby is in utero.

Treatment of Kyphosis

Most patients with mild kyphosis only need nonsurgical treatment to recover. This may include simple observation to monitor the spinal curve to check if it gets worse over time. The patient may need periodic visits and X-rays under the supervision of an orthopedist and unless the curve gets worse or the patient experiences significant pain or breathing difficulties, this is usually the only necessary treatment.

Physical therapy may also help relieve back pain, improve posture, strengthen muscles, help stretch tight hamstrings and strengthen body areas that have been negatively impacted by the spinal curvature. Exercises to strengthen the core muscles and pain-relieving medications can help to relieve pain caused from Kyphosis. For those concerned with how the curvature appears, bracing and postural exercises may be used.

Surgical treatment of kyphosis is often necessary for patients diagnosed with congenital kyphosis. Spinal fusion is the most commonly used surgical procedure to treat kyphosis, as it can reduce the degree of spinal curvature, maintain the improvement over time, prevent further progression of spinal curvature, and alleviate any existing back pain. Spinal fusion is essentially a procedure that “welds” and fuses together the affected vertebrae, so they will heal into a single, solid bone. Kyphoplasty is another surgical option your surgeon may consider pending the patient’s presenting conditions and other factors.

To learn more about our Orange County Kyphosis treatment, please call to make an appointment at (855) 999-4641.

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