Kyphosis is a curving of the spine that causes a bowing or rounding of the back. This leads to a hunchback or slouching posture.
Kyphosis can occur at any age, although it is rare at birth.
A type of kyphosis that occurs in young teens is known as Scheuermann disease. It is caused by the wedging together of several bones of the spine (vertebrae) in a row. The cause of this condition is unknown. Kyphosis can also occur in young teens who have cerebral palsy.
In adults, kyphosis can be caused by:
Other causes of kyphosis include:
Pain in the middle or lower back is the most common symptom. Other symptoms may include any of the following:
Physical examination by a health care provider confirms the abnormal curve of the spine. The provider will also look for any nervous system (neurological) changes. These include weakness, paralysis, or changes in sensation below the curve.
Tests that may be ordered include:
Treatment depends on the cause of the disorder:
Treatment for other types of kyphosis depends on the cause. Surgery is needed if nervous system symptoms or constant pain develop.
Young teens with Scheuermann disease tend to do well, even if they need surgery. The disease stops once they stop growing. If the kyphosis is due to degenerative joint disease or multiple compression fractures, surgery is needed to correct the defect and improve pain.
Untreated kyphosis can cause any of the following:
Treating and preventing osteoporosis can prevent many cases of kyphosis in older adults. Early diagnosis and bracing for Scheuermann disease can reduce the need for surgery, but there is no way to prevent the disease.
Reviewed By: C. Benjamin Ma, MD, Professor, Chief, Sports Medicine and Shoulder Service, UCSF Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, San Francisco, CA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.