Kyphosis is a condition that consists of a forward rounding of the spine. While there is a natural curvature to the spine, kyphosis is a pronounced, abnormal rounding of the back. This condition can occur at any age, but it is most common in senior women. Kyphosis in older women is normally a result of osteoporosis weakening the bone structure to the point where vertebrae can crack or collapse. Kyphosis during youth is often a result of malformation of the spine.
Kyphosis occurs when the cylinders that make up the spinal column start to turn into wedge shapes, causing the spine to excessively curve forward.
Those with mild kyphosis normally do not experience problems that distract or interrupt them from their lives and may not seek treatment. Severe kyphosis can be noticeably disfiguring and cause back pain and stiffness. Those with severe kyphosis may experience body image problems and decreased appetite due to the misalignment of the spine, in addition to stiffness and chronic back pain.
In young people, kyphosis can be caused by birth defects or diseases that affect musculoskeletal growth. In adults, kyphosis is most frequently caused by disc degeneration, some cancers, and osteoporosis.
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Treatment plans for kyphosis depend on the severity of the condition. Pain relievers are commonly used for mild discomfort. In senior citizens, osteoporosis drugs may be used to strengthen the bones. Some cases may be helped by physical therapy and exercise and a healthy lifestyle that includes proper diet and calcium intake. For pediatric patients, bracing may be an option, especially during growth. A spine surgery for abnormal kyphosis is usually the last treatment option pursued. More common approaches involve physical therapy. However, if any of the following are present, surgery may be recommended as the next step:
- Curve severity
- Curve progression
- Balance (too hunched over to easily maintain balance)
- Neurological symptoms such as pinched nerves, weakness, numbness or bowel and bladder dysfunction
If the back rounding continues to progress, extends into the mid or lower back, or causes further symptoms after non-surgical treatments have been administered, surgery is a definite option. Kyphosis can lead to compression of the spinal cord or nerves. The goal of the surgery is to take the patient out of pain and to place the spine in a more natural position. This is typically done by placing spinal implants including rods next to the spine to correct the deformity and stabilize the spine while it fuses together in its new position. The majority of patients express satisfaction with pain relief and the results of the surgery.
Spine fusion surgery is the most common procedure to reduce the curvature of the spine. This involves permanently fusing two or more affected vertebrae together, giving the spine a much healthier and more comfortable position. During the healing process, the spine is usually supported by rods and screws until it is fully healed.
If you have noticed an increased curve in you or your child’s spine, schedule a consultation with Dr. Leonel Hunt so he can determine the cause and craft a treatment plan.
When you look at a diagram of the human spine, you notice that two areas curve inward: the neck region and the lower or lumbar region. When these areas begin to lose their inward curve, the condition of kyphosis starts to occur. It commonly results from one of the following:
- Developmental problems that either occurred at birth or during the growth of the body
- Scheuermann’s disease, a type of structural kyphosis
- Compression fractures of the vertebra
- Multiple myeloma
- Physical trauma
- Syndromes such as Marfan syndrome or Prader-Will disease in children
- Cancer and cancer treatments such as chemotherapy and radiation where the vertebrae have been weakened, making them more prone to compression fractures
Bad posture, common in teenagers, is not an actual deformity in the spine but can give the appearance of kyphosis and is called “postural kyphosis.”
The spine is critical to the entire nervous system and serves as a pillar to support the body’s weight and protect the spinal cord. The curves in the spine help it withstand great amounts of stress by allowing it, in conjunction with intervertebral discs, to cushion shocks and more evenly distribute body weight. Through the spine runs the spinal cord which branches off into 31 pairs of nerve roots that connect to the nervous system that runs throughout the body. The nerves of the thoracic spine control the chest and abdomen. Kyphosis, if progressive, can not only produce pain and abnormal posture, but it can affect vital organs related to the chest and abdomen.
The 12 thoracic vertebrae continue the spine after the first seven in the cervical area. These thoracic vertebrae are already slightly bowed between 20 to 45 degrees. This is called the kyphotic pitch. So some rounding of the back is entirely normal. This is also the section of the spine that experiences little motion relative to the cervical (neck) and lumbar (lower back) region. If this natural rounding increases beyond a mild degree, the underlying causes will need to be addressed so the spinal degradation doesn’t continue to evolve.
Hunt Spine excels at diagnosing kyphosis and determining a corrective course of action. Our experience at both spinal surgery and neurosurgery provides a comprehensive vision for optimum spinal health.