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A.D.A.M. Medical Encyclopedia [Internet]. Atlanta (GA): A.D.A.M.; 2013.

A.D.A.M. Medical Encyclopedia.

Kyphosis

Scheuermann's disease; Roundback; Hunchback; Postural kyphosis

Last reviewed: September 4, 2012.

Kyphosis is a curving of the spine that causes a bowing or rounding of the back, which leads to a hunchback or slouching posture.

Causes, incidence, and risk factors

Kyphosis can occur at any age, although it is rare at birth.

Adolescent kyphosis, also known as Scheuermann's disease, is caused by the wedging together of several bones of the spine (vertebrae) in a row. The cause of Scheuermann's disease is unknown.

In adults, kyphosis can be caused by:

  • Degenerative diseases of the spine (such as arthritis or disk degeneration)
  • Fractures caused by osteoporosis (osteoporotic compression fractures)
  • Injury (trauma)
  • Slipping of one vertebra forward on another (spondylolisthesis)

Other causes of kyphosis include:

Kyphosis can also be seen with scoliosis. Each cause has its own risk factors.

Symptoms

  • Difficulty breathing (in severe cases)
  • Mild back pain
  • Round back appearance
  • Tenderness and stiffness in the spine

Signs and tests

Physical examination by a health care provider confirms the abnormal curve of the spine. The doctor will also look for any nervous system (neurological) changes (weakness, paralysis, or changes in sensation) below the curve.

Other tests may include:

Treatment

Treatment depends on the cause of the disorder:

  • Congenital kyphosis requires corrective surgery at an early age.
  • Scheuermann's disease is treated with a brace and physical therapy. Occasionally surgery is needed for large (greater than 60 degrees), painful curves.
  • Multiple compression fractures from osteoporosis can be left alone if there are no nervous system problems or pain. However, the osteoporosis needs to be treated to help prevent future fractures. For debilitating deformity or pain, surgery is an option.
  • Kyphosis caused by infection or tumor needs to be treated more aggressively, often with surgery and medications.

Treatment for other types of kyphosis depends on the cause. Surgery is needed if neurological symptoms or persistent pain develop.

Expectations (prognosis)

Adolescents with Scheuermann's disease tend to do well even if they need surgery, and 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.

Complications

  • Decreased lung capacity
  • Disabling back pain
  • Neurological symptoms including leg weakness or paralysis
  • Round back deformity

Prevention

Treating and preventing osteoporosis can prevent many cases of kyphosis in the elderly. Early diagnosis and bracing of Scheuermann's disease can reduce the need for surgery, but there is no way to prevent the disease.

References

  1. Spiegel DA, Hosalkar HS, Dormans JP. The spine. In: Kliegman RM, Behrman RE, Jenson HB, Stanton BF, eds. Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics. 18th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2007:chap 678.
  2. Freeman BL III. Scoliosis and kyphosis. In: Canale ST, Beaty JH, eds. Campbell's Operative Orthopaedics. 11th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Mosby Elsevier; 2007:chap 38.

Review Date: 9/4/2012.

Reviewed by: Thomas N. Joseph, MD, Private Practice specializing in Orthopaedics, subspecialty Foot and Ankle, Camden Bone & Joint, Camden, SC. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Inc.

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Copyright © 2013, A.D.A.M., Inc.

A.D.A.M., Inc. is accredited by URAC, also known as the American Accreditation HealthCare Commission (www.urac.org). URAC's accreditation program is an independent audit to verify that A.D.A.M. follows rigorous standards of quality and accountability. A.D.A.M. is among the first to achieve this important distinction for online health information and services. Learn more about A.D.A.M.'s editorial policy, editorial process and privacy policy. A.D.A.M. is also a founding member of Hi-Ethics and subscribes to the principles of the Health on the Net Foundation (www.hon.ch).

The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only — they do not constitute endorsementscof those other sites. © 1997–2011 A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.

Copyright © 2013, A.D.A.M., Inc.

What works?

  • Pedicle screw fixation methods for traumatic fractures of the thoracic and lumbar spine
    Thoracic and lumbar spine fractures are the most common injuries of the spine. An exaggerated curvature (kyphosis) at the end of treatment may predispose to later back pain and a poor functional outcome. If the nerve root or spinal cord is damaged, partial or complete loss of sensory and motor function in the legs, and urinary and faecal incontinence may result. Treatment depends on the individual characteristics of the fracture, with options including bed rest alone, closed reduction of the fracture and functional bracing, and surgery involving open reduction and internal fixation of the fracture. Surgery frequently involves posterior pedicle screw fixation, where typically screws are placed in the 'pedicle' parts of the vertebrae (bones of the spine) adjacent to the damaged vertebrae and connected by rods to hold the bones in place and stabilise the fracture while it heals. This review examined the evidence for the different types of pedicle screw fixation and for additional support such as fusion, where bone graft (usually taken from bone near the hip region of the patient) or substitute is added to the spine. The latter aims to reduce movement of the injured segment and any associated pain.
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Figures

  • Skeletal spine.
    Kyphosis.

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