A normal spine would appear straight when you look at it from behind. On the other hand, a kyphotic spine has the thoracic region, or the upper back bent in the forward direction. This forward curvature of the vertebrae in the upper back area gives the illusion of a hunchback. Some people refer to this as ’roundback’ or a ‘dowager’s hump’.
In the case of kyphosis, the spine will have a curvature of 50 degrees or more, as seen on an X-Ray scan. A normal spine will only bend up to 20 and 45 degrees of curvature in the thoracic region. Thus, kyphosis, in the most basic terms, is a deformation in the spine.
What is Kyphosis?
In terms of appearance, a person suffering from kyphosis would have exaggerated forward rounding or curvature of the upper back. A person can sustain a kyphotic spine at any age of their lives. But older women are prone to having kyphosis symptoms.
One of the significant kyphosis causes is factors related to age. As people grow older, their spinal bones become weaker, causing them to compress or crack. This could lead to kyphosis for people. But even teens or children can suffer from kyphosis due to either malformed growth of the spine or the wedging of spinal bones as time passes.
The implications of kyphosis can vary depending upon the severity of the curvature. Mild kyphosis will only cause a few problems and is easy to treat. Severe kyphosis can lead to intense pain and even lead to restricted movements or a disfigured body structure.
Most of the time, people suffer from what we call thoracic kyphosis or dorsal kyphosis. The thoracic or the dorsal spinal bones are located in the upper back, just below the cervical bones. People can suffer from lumbar kyphosis, but that happens when there is a mixture of kyphosis and scoliosis, giving people the appearance of a severe hunchback. This condition is called kyphoscoliosis.
As we’ve mentioned before, age can be one of the contributing factors leading to a kyphotic
spine. But this deformity is also often observed in the spines of adolescence. So age cannot be the only cause of kyphosis.
An infant could have a kyphotic spine from birth, or it can develop as a result of the following conditions:
- Metabolic problems and deficiencies.
- Fractured or crushed spinal bones may result in curvature of the spine.
- Conditions such as osteogenesis imperfecta that causes the bone to become extremely brittle or osteoporosis, a bone-thinning disorder.
- Degeneration of disks.
- Scheuermann’s disease, which begins during the growth spurt, causing an upward curve of the upper back.
- Syndromes like Ehlers-Danlos syndrome and Marfan syndrome can also play a contributing role in causing kyphosis in children.
- The growth of cancer cells in the spine can weaken the spinal bones, leading to potential kyphosis.
Symptoms of Kyphosis
The spine is the foundation or the base of a human body. If the spine suffers, so does the rest of the body. Knowing kyphosis symptoms is essential if one is experiencing postural problems, back pain, and so on.
Each person may experience different symptoms of kyphosis, but here are a few common ones that you might be experiencing:
- Stiffness or discomfort in the back and around the shoulder blades.
- Tingling sensations in legs and knees.
- Facing difficulty while trying to balance the body normally.
- The difference in the length or the height of the shoulder.
- The difference in the size of scapula or shoulder blades.
- Tightness in the hamstrings.
- The head is hunching forward compared to the rest of the body.
You may even experience back pain, bladder/bowel incontinence, and pain in the legs in severe cases. These symptoms may even be associated with some other spinal deformity. It is advisable that you consult an expert instead of relying on self-diagnosis.
For the diagnosis of kyphosis in a child, the doctor will need to see the child’s medical, parental, and birth history. Doctors often require reports of complete medical history, a set of physical exams, and diagnostic tests to come to a solid conclusion.
The preliminary diagnosis tests may include the following:
- Blood tests.
- X-Rays: The use of electromagnetic beams to produce accurate images of internal body structure and organs. Healthcare experts will then use an X-Ray scan to measure the curvature of the spine.
- Radionuclide Bone Scan: This is another imaging technique in which radioactive material is injected into the bloodstream. A scanner detects this material to show the flow of blood to the bone and tracks the cell’s activity within the bone.
- MRI Scans: MRI scans also produce images of internal organs, tissues, and much more. Doctors use the results of MRI scans to eliminate possibilities of associated spinal and nervous abnormalities.
- CT Scans: These scans use X-Rays and other computer technology to scan detailed images of internal body structure. The results of CT scans are more accurate than X-Ray scans.
Kyphosis treatments may vary depending on many factors like the patient’s age, symptoms, and general well-being.
- Observations and Tests: The doctors will observe the patient thoroughly and prescribe a set of repeated exams. They do this primarily to track the progression of the curve.
- Bracing: In the case of adolescents and growing children, doctors may prescribe a brace. The type of brace and the time for which the patient will have it depends on the doctor’s decision.
- Physical Therapy: Certain exercises and stretches help to strengthen the back muscles and loosen up the hamstrings.
In some rare cases, doctors will recommend surgery. However, this only happens in extreme cases when the curvature is 75 degrees or more, and only if the bracing procedure fails in slowing down the curve progression.
When To Meet A Doctor?
Like scoliosis, kyphosis is a severe condition that may have life-altering complications. Even in the case of mild symptoms, getting an expert opinion should be the priority. The spine is the base of the human body, and keeping it healthy is necessary to lead a normal and healthy life.