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Kyphosis

Kyphosis is a forward rounding of the back. Some rounding is normal, but the term "kyphosis" usually refers to an exaggerated rounding of the back. While kyphosis can occur at any age, it's most common in older women.

Age-related kyphosis often occurs after osteoporosis weakens spinal bones to the point that they crack and compress. Other types of kyphosis are seen in infants or teens due to malformation of the spine or wedging of the spinal bones over time.

Mild kyphosis causes few problems, but severe cases can cause pain and be disfiguring. Treatment for kyphosis depends on your age, the cause of the curvature and its effects.

Symptoms Causes Complications

In addition to an abnormally curved spine, kyphosis can also cause back pain and stiffness in some people. Mild cases of kyphosis may produce no noticeable signs or symptoms.

When to see a doctor

Make an appointment with your doctor if you notice an increased curve in your upper back or in your child's spine.

The individual bones (vertebrae) that make up a healthy spine look like cylinders stacked in a column. Kyphosis occurs when the vertebrae in the upper back become more wedge-shaped. This deformity can be caused by a variety of problems, including:

  • Osteoporosis. This bone-thinning disorder can result in crushed vertebrae (compression fractures). Osteoporosis is most common in older adults, particularly women, and in people who have taken high doses of corticosteroids for long periods of time.
  • Disk degeneration. Soft, circular disks act as cushions between spinal vertebrae. With age, these disks dry out and shrink, which often worsens kyphosis.
  • Scheuermann's disease. Also called Scheuermann's kyphosis, this disease typically begins during the growth spurt that occurs before puberty. Boys are affected more often than are girls. The rounding of the back may worsen as the child finishes growing.
  • Birth defects. If a baby's spinal column doesn't develop properly in the womb, the spinal bones may not form properly, causing kyphosis.
  • Syndromes. Kyphosis in children can also be associated with certain syndromes, such as Marfan syndrome or Prader-Willi disease.
  • Cancer and cancer treatments. Cancer in the spine can weaken vertebrae and make them more prone to compression fractures, as can chemotherapy and radiation cancer treatments.

An increased curve in the upper spine also can be caused by slouching. Called postural kyphosis, this condition doesn't involve any deformities in the spine. It's most common in teenagers.

Kyphosis may cause the following complications:

  • Body image problems. Adolescents especially may develop a poor body image from having a rounded back or from wearing a brace to correct the condition.
  • Back pain. In some cases, the misalignment of the spine can lead to pain, which can become severe and disabling.
  • Decreased appetite. In severe cases, the curve may cause the abdomen to be compressed and lead to decreased appetite.
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