What is kyphosis?
A normal spine, when viewed from behind appears straight. However, a spine affected
by kyphosis has a forward curvature of the back bones (vertebrae) in the upper back
area, giving an abnormally rounded or "humpback" appearance. This is sometimes known
as roundback or a dowager's hump.
Kyphosis is a curvature of the spine measuring 50 degrees or greater on an X-ray.
The normal spine can bend from 20 to 45 degrees of curvature in the upper back area.
Kyphosis is a type of spinal deformity.
What causes kyphosis?
A child can be born with kyphosis (congenital) or it can be caused by the following
Brittle bone disease (osteogenesis imperfecta). A condition that causes bones to fracture
with minimal force.
Spina bifida. A neural tube defect.
Scheuermann disease. A condition that causes the vertebrae to curve forward in the
upper back area. The cause of Scheuermann disease is unknown and is commonly seen
Postural kyphosis. The most common type of kyphosis. It generally becomes noticeable
in adolescence and can be associated with slouching versus a spinal abnormality. Exercise
is used to help correct posture.
Kyphosis is more common in females than males.
What are the symptoms of kyphosis?
The following are the most common symptoms of kyphosis. However, each person may experience
symptoms differently. Symptoms may include:
Difference in shoulder height
The head bends forward compared to the rest of the body
Difference in shoulder blade height or position
When bending forward, the height of the upper back appears higher than normal
Tight hamstrings (back thigh) muscles
Back pain, pain down the legs, and changes in bowel and bladder habits are not commonly
seen in people with kyphosis. If you have these types of symptoms, see your healthcare
The symptoms of kyphosis may look like other spinal conditions or deformities, or
may happen because of an injury or infection. Always talk with your healthcare provider
for a diagnosis.
How is kyphosis diagnosed?
The healthcare provider makes the diagnosis of kyphosis with a complete medical history,
physical exam, and diagnostic tests. For a child, the healthcare provider will want
to have a prenatal and birth history of the child. They will also ask if other family
members are known to have kyphosis. The healthcare provider also will ask about developmental
milestones since some types of kyphosis can be associated with other neuromuscular
disorders. Developmental delays may require further medical evaluation.
Diagnostic procedures may include the following:
X-rays. A diagnostic test that uses invisible electromagnetic energy beams to produce images
of internal tissues, bones, and organs onto film. This test is used to measure and
evaluate the curve. With the use of a full-spine X-ray, the healthcare provider measures
the angle of the spinal curve. A treatment plan can often be made based on this measurement.
Radionuclide bone scan. A nuclear imaging technique that uses a very small amount of radioactive material,
which is injected into the bloodstream to be detected by a scanner. This test shows
blood flow to the bone and cell activity within the bone.
MRI. A diagnostic procedure that uses a combination of large magnets and a computer to
produce detailed images of organs and structures within the body. This test is done
to rule out any associated abnormalities of the spinal cord and nerves.
CT scan. This is an imaging test that uses X-rays and a computer to make detailed images of
the body. A CT scan shows details of the bones, muscles, fat, and organs. CT scans
are more detailed than general X-rays.
Early detection of kyphosis is important for successful treatment. Healthcare providers,
and even some school programs, regularly look for signs of kyphosis in children.
How is kyphosis treated?
Treatment will depend on your symptoms, age, and general health. It will also depend
on how severe the condition is.
The goal of treatment is to stop the progression of the curve and minimize deformity.
Treatment may include:
Observation and repeated exams. The child will need observation and repeated exams. Progression of the curve depends
on the child's skeletal growth and maturity. Curve progression often slows down or
stops after the child reaches puberty.
Bracing. If the child is still growing, the healthcare provider may prescribe a brace. The
type of brace and the amount of time spent in the brace will be discussed with you
by your healthcare provider.
Surgery. In rare instances, surgery is recommended when the curve measures 75 degrees or more
on X-ray, and bracing is not successful in slowing down the progression of the curve.
What are possible complications of kyphosis?
Possible complications of kyphosis depend on the type of kyphosis your child has.
With Scheuermann kyphosis, there may be pain with activity or with long periods of
sitting or standing. Severe kyphosis can harm how the lungs work.
Key points about kyphosis
Kyphosis is a type of spinal deformity. Kyphosis is defined as a curvature of the
spine measuring 50 degrees or greater on an X-ray.
A child can be born with it (congenital) or it can be caused by certain conditions.
It is more common in females.
The most common symptoms may include difference in shoulder or shoulder blade height,
the head bends forward, and tight hamstring muscles. :
The goal of treatment is to stop the progression of the curve and minimize deformity
Tips to help you get the most from a visit to your healthcare provider:
Know the reason for your visit and what you want to happen.
Before your visit, write down questions you want answered.
Bring someone with you to help you ask questions and remember what your provider tells
At the visit, write down the name of a new diagnosis, and any new medicines, treatments,
or tests. Also write down any new instructions your provider gives you.
Know why a new medicine or treatment is prescribed, and how it will help you. Also
know what the side effects are.
Ask if your condition can be treated in other ways.
Know why a test or procedure is recommended and what the results could mean.
Know what to expect if you do not take the medicine or have the test or procedure.
If you have a follow-up appointment, write down the date, time, and purpose for that
Know how you can contact your provider if you have questions.