The upper and middle part of a human spine displays a characteristic outer curve that is called the kyphotic curvature. In a healthy human spine, this curvature ranges between 20-45 degrees. When the “roundness” of this part of the spine exceeds 45 degrees, it is called kyphosis. People with kyphosis typically display a bowed back, or slouching posture, the condition colloquially referred to as “hunchback”.
Mild kyphosis presents few problems and may not even require treatment. More severe kyphosis, however, can present a host of life-changing problems from pain and discomfort, to difficulty breathing and digesting. Severe kyphosis frequently requires surgery to successfully restore the body’s natural curvature and functioning.
Kyphosis can be successfully treated by a variety of conservative and surgical interventions, depending on the severity of the kyphotic curvature. The physicians at the Ainsworth Institute of Pain Management are experts in diagnosing and treating kyphosis. Dramatic changes in quality of life are possible, especially in children who have not yet completed their growth.
What is Kyphosis?
The spine is a miracle of engineering. Its curved shape allows for maximum flexibility and fluid movement. The thoracic spine (chest-level, between the 1st and 12th vertebrae) has a degree of natural and appropriate curvature. As mentioned above, this curvature becomes abnormal when it exceeds 45 degrees. At this point kyphosis can be painful and interfere with a person’s balance and posture.
The prevalence of kyphosis is estimated to affect 4-8% of the general population. There are different kinds of kyphosis and the causes of each are multifactorial. The condition also appears more frequently in males than females.
The main visible symptom of kyphosis is obviously the excessively curved back and accompanying slouched posture. There are also a host of other physical symptoms depending on the severity of the condition:
Severe pain and discomfort
Difficulties with digestion and/or breathing
Irregularities in the cardiovascular system
In some cases, shortened life span
There are three main types of kyphosis, each with it’s own set of causes.
Scheuermann’s disease occurs in children, senile kyphosis occurs in the elderly, and post-traumatic kyphosis can happen to anyone at any age following an accident.
Scheuermann’s disease starts in childhood or adolescence and causes the vertebrae to become more wedge-shaped in the front. These abnormally shaped vertebrae, over time, cause the spine to angle forward and creates a curve in the upper back. Scheuermann’s kyphosis is more common in boys than girls, and it is usually diagnosed in adolescence as it becomes more obvious and may be accompanied by back pain.
An accident or injury can cause kyphosis. A vehicular accident, fall, or other trauma can fracture the spine and cause the deformity that leads to kyphosis. This type of kyphosis is associated with significant pain and may be disabling. It often occurs in the lower or mid back where it compresses nerves and can strain ligaments and muscles.
This term simply means kyphosis associated with aging. As we age, degenerative conditions as well as certain diseases can affect the spine. In particular, osteoporosis, cancer, and the long-term use of certain drugs (including steroids) can decrease bone mass and cause fractures that ultimately change the shape of the spine. Senile kyphosis is usually associated with spinal fractures which can cause the vertebrae to collapse.
Senile kyphosis may occur gradually and symptoms may be mild to severe. Over time, senile kyphosis can result in difficulties sleeping and breathing.
Doctor’s can generally diagnose kyphosis through observation and measurement. Abnormalities of the spine, such as the wedge-shaped vertebrae of Scheuermann’s Disease can be confirmed through x-ray, and osteoporosis influenced kyphosis can be diagnosed with a bone density scan. There are several treatment paths depending on the type and severity of kyphosis:
Scheuermann’s disease in particular may benefit from physical therapy or short-term treatment using a back brace. In some cases, the condition improves on its own. In other cases, surgical correction may be required. If surgery is necessary, it is usually postponed until the child’s spine has fully matured and stopped growing. The treatment of senile kyphosis often involves first treating the underlying condition (for example, osteoporosis) and then using non-surgical treatments or minimally invasive surgery to correct the problem.
Kyphoplasty – In this procedure an inflatable balloon pump is inserted into the fractured vertebral body using fluoroscopic guidance before plaster is injected. The balloon can restore vertebral body height and reverse spine curvature. Kyphoplasty has best results if performed within 3 months of onset of symptoms or fracture, with short term results showing 85% to 100% pain relief. In many cases, this procedure can restore some changes in the spine when kyphosis is caused by a vertebral compression fracture.
Surgery – In severe cases, your doctor might recommend surgery to solve the problem. In addition to kyphoplasty, spinal fusion surgery is another method to treat especially debilitating kyphosis. In it, two or more vertebrae are joined together to immobilize the faulty vertebrae and the pain associated with it. The risk of complications from spinal fusion surgery is about the same as the estimated risk for using the same procedure for scoliosis, 5%.
Schedule an Appointment Today
The doctors at the Ainsworth Institute of Pain Management specialize in treating kyphosis. Dramatic improvements in pain and quality of life are a single phone call away. Schedule an appointment today with one of our board certified pain management experts to discuss what options for treatment may best suit your needs.