Spinal Problems Curvature Kyphosis

Kyphosis is an outward/backward curving C-shape in the spine. The thoracic spine (upper to mid back) has a natural outward (kyphotic) curve; however, doctors consider a curve of more than 40 degrees to be kyphosis.

Kyphosis (sometimes called “roundback”) is most common in the thoracic spine, but can also occur in the cervical (neck) or lumbar (lower back) region, both of which should naturally have an inward (lordotic) curve.

Kyphosis in Children

Three types of spine kyphosis can occur in children:

  • Congenital kyphosis occurs when a baby’s spinal column does not develop properly while the fetus is still in the uterus. Children with this condition may require surgery at a very young age to help maintain a more normal spinal curve.
  • Postural kyphosis is the most common type of kyphosis in children, and is often ascribed to slouching. It rarely causes pain and typically does not lead to problems as an adult.
  • Scheuermann’s kyphosis, which usually shows up during the teen years, is a significantly more severe deformity than other types of kyphosis. Scheuermann’s kyphosis usually affects the thoracic spine, but can also occur in the lower back area.

Treatment for kyphosis in children may include exercises and anti-inflammatory medications, if pain is present. Sometimes a brace is used until the child’s bones stop growing. Doctors may recommend surgery for kyphosis if the kyphotic curve is greater than 75 degrees. Surgery fuses the abnormal spinal segments together to reduce the curvature.

Kyphosis in Adults

The most common cause of thoracic kyphosis in adults is osteoporosis, which is why the condition is sometimes referred to as “dowager’s hump.” Other causes are trauma or injury to the spine or the effects of medical treatment or surgery (called “iatrogenic factors”).

Treatment for adult kyphosis includes medication, exercise and braces to support the spine. Physical therapy and exercise are usually the most important part of the treatment program. Experts generally recommended surgery for adult kyphosis only if:

  • The curvature continues to worsen
  • The deformity becomes unbearable for any reason
  • The patient is experiencing severe, uncontrollable pain.

Cervical Kyphosis

Kyphosis in the neck can cause symptoms ranging from minor neck pain to a severe deformity that can lead to paralysis if untreated.

Cervical kyphosis can be congenital—meaning that it is present from birth—or it can be caused by:

  • Degeneration of spinal discs
  • Medical treatment or surgery
  • Trauma or injury.

If the cervical kyphosis is causing pressure on the spinal cord, your doctor may suggest immediate surgery. Otherwise, typical treatments include:

  • Neck braces
  • Pain medications
  • Physical therapy programs.


American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons Staff. (n.d.). Kyphosis (roundback) of the spine. Retrieved March 12, 2010, from http://orthoinfo.aaos.org/topic.cfm?topic=a00423

An, H. (n.d.). Kyphosis: Description and diagnosis. Retrieved March 12, 2010, from http://www.spineuniverse.com/conditions/kyphosis/kyphosis-description-diagnosis

An, H. (n.d.). Kyphosis: Treatment and recovery. Retrieved March 12, 2010, from http://www.spineuniverse.com/conditions/kyphosis/kyphosis-treatment-recovery

University of Maryland Spine Program Staff. (n.d.). A patient’s guide to adult kyphosis. Retrieved March 12, 2010, from http://www.umm.edu/spinecenter/education/adult_kyphosis.htm

University of Maryland Spine Program Staff. (n.d.). A patient’s guide to cervical kyphosis. Retrieved March 12, 2010, from http://www.umm.edu/spinecenter/education/cervical_kyphosis.htm