Kyphosis (Hunchback)

Kyphosis at a glance

  • Kyphosis also known as hunchback or dowager’s hump is an abnormal outward curvature of the upper back (thoracic spine) that causes hunching.
  • Kyphosis can be caused by several conditions affecting the spine; postural kyphosis can be caused from excessive slouching.
  • In addition to the exaggerated curve of the back, symptoms can include back pain or stiffness; in severe cases, kyphosis can affect organs, nerves, and other parts of the body.
  • Treatment for kyphosis may include medication, physical therapy, or spinal surgery.

Causes of kyphosis

Kyphosis is caused by vertebrae (which are normally block-shaped) becoming wedge-shaped, causing the spine to curve. This condition develops due to a number of precursor conditions.

Disc degeneration

Soft discs between the vertebrae cushion the bones of the spine. With age and/or other spinal conditions, these discs can become brittle or shrink, lessening the support between vertebrae and damaging the bone, also known as degenerating discs.

Osteoporosis

Osteoporosis is a bone-thinning disorder most commonly seen in older women. The weakened vertebrae can develop compression fractures even during normal activity. This can alter the shape of the vertebrae.

Cancer and treatments

Cancer as well as treatments for cancer such as radiation or chemotherapy can weaken the vertebrae, causing compression fractures, which deform the shape of the vertebrae.

Scheuermann’s disease

Scheuermann’s disease is a hereditary disorder that can cause kyphosis during the growing period before a child hits puberty. This disease is generally seen more often in boys than girls. It is believed to cause the cartilage that normally turns to bone to develop unevenly, causing the vertebrae to develop into wedge shapes.

Slouching

Postural kyphosis does not involve an actual deformity in the spine, but an exaggerated curve in the upper spine can develop from excessive slouching, seen more commonly in teenage girls.

Birth defects

In rare cases, a baby’s spinal column does not develop fully or properly in the womb, leading to kyphosis.

Symptoms of kyphosis

The most evident symptom of kyphosis is the abnormally curved portion of the upper spine. Mild cases of kyphosis may not have any other symptoms; however, people with kyphosis may experience back pain and stiffness.

Severe cases of kyphosis can affect the nerves, lungs, organs, and tissue with pain and other issues. In very severe cases, the spine can cause the rib cage to press against the lungs, making it difficult to breathe.

The extent of effects caused by kyphosis depends on the underlying condition and age.

Treatment of kyphosis

The best treatment option for kyphosis depends on the underlying condition and the symptoms.

Medication options include over-the-counter pain relievers, such as Tylenol, Advil, or Aleve if the condition is related to osteoporosis. There are also special osteoporosis drugs that help strengthen the bones, preventing further damage. Be sure to talk to your pharmacist before purchasing anti-inflammatories as these medications may be contraindicated as they may interact with other medications and medical conditions.

Stretching and flexibility back exercises can alleviate kyphosis symptoms, as well as improve posture. Wearing a body brace is another option, especially for children whose bones are still growing.

For severe cases of kyphosis with a severe curve or pinched nerves, surgery may be necessary to correct or reduce the deformity. Spinal fusion, which fuses two or more vertebrae together, is the most common surgery to correct kyphosis.

Contact us to schedule an appointment with our orthopedic spine specialists if you have a hunched upper back associated with kyphosis and would like to learn more about your treatment options.