The spine has a normal curvature that allows weight to be supported in an upright posture. With kyphosis, this curvature is exaggerated, causing the upper back to bend forward. This creates a rounded or hunched appearance.

Causes & Symptoms of Kyphosis

Most common in the upper back (the thoracic spine), kyphosis is generally thought to be caused by abnormal growth of the vertebra in which the front part stops growing before the back part does. This growth abnormality causes wedge-shaped vertebrae, which cause a forward-bending posture. Kyphosis may also be caused by vertebral compression fractures (due to osteoporosis) or degenerative bone conditions, such as arthritis.

The most serious type of kyphosis is Scheuermann’s disease. Boys are affected by Scheuermann's disease more often than girls, and the first signs usually appear in adolescence. The upper back gradually appears more rounded, and there may be accompanying back pain that worsens during the day and is relieved with rest. Pain, if present, is typically felt at the most curved point of the spine and can be aggravated by activity or prolonged periods of sitting or standing.

Diagnosing & Treating Kyphosis

Kyphosis is typically diagnosed following a physical examination and X-rays of the spine to measure the “kyphotic angle.” The spine’s natural curvature is between 20 and 45 degrees; if the curvature is greater than 50 degrees, it is considered kyphosis.

In many cases, kyphosis can be treated without surgery. For patients with more severe cases, however, surgical treatments are available. Our specialists tailor treatment recommendations to the individual patient’s needs and the severity of the kyphosis.

Nonsurgical Treatments for Kyphosis

Nonsurgical treatment for kyphosis often include the following:

  • Examinations at regular intervals to monitor the curve and make sure it does not progress.
  • Physical therapy to strengthen muscles in the abdomen and back, which may help to alleviate back pain and improve posture.
  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs) may be recommended for back pain.
  • Bracing may be recommended, particularly for patients with Scheuermann’s disease who are still growing. Bracing may not totally straighten the curve, but it can help prevent it from getting worse.

Unless the curve is very severe or gets worse, nonsurgical treatment is effective at managing kyphosis for the majority of patients.

Surgical Treatment for Kyphosis

Surgery may be recommended for patients with a curve that is greater than 70-75 degrees, or those who have severe back pain that is caused by the kyphosis.

Surgery for kyphosis is typically a spinal fusion. The vertebrae are fused together in a way that reduces the curvature of the spine, and only the curved vertebrae are fused. Typically, metal rods and screws are used to hold the vertebrae in position. Small pieces of bone called bone grafts are inserted into the spaces between the vertebrae, and over time the bones will grow together, fusing the bones.

Recovering from Kyphosis Surgery

The recovery process for kyphosis surgery can vary depending on the individual patient. Recovery may require a hospital stay up to a week, though some patients are able to stand or even walk the day of surgery.

Typically, physical activity is limited for about 8-10 weeks to allow the bones to properly fuse together, though gentle activity like walking is typically encouraged. Your surgeon will advise on which activities are okay in the initial stages of recovery, and what should be avoided during this time. If needed, physical therapy can typically begin within 10-12 weeks of surgery, when healing has progressed enough that it is safe to do so.

Followup appointments are typically recommended within the first year of surgery to check in on healing and ensure that the fusion is healing properly.

Kyphosis Treatment in Austin, TX

The spinal deformity experts at Austin Spine offer a variety of nonsurgical and surgical treatment options for kyphosis and Scheuermann’s disease, which are tailored to the needs of the patient. To learn more about our kyphosis treatment options or schedule an appointment with one of our specialists, please call our office at (512) 347-7463.