Sometimes known as Roundback or Hunchback, kyphosis causes an excessive curvature of the spine. This can occur at any age, but is common during adolescence. Patients may sometimes require a back brace or corrective exercises to improve posture and strengthen the spine. In severe cases, kyphosis can be quite painful and may lead to breathing problems.
There are several types of kyphosis. The three that most commonly affect children and adolescents are:
- Postural Kyphosis – the most common, clinically noted as poor posture or slouching. More common in girls than boys, rarely painful, usually does not lead to problems in adulthood.
- Scheuermann’s Kyphosis – becomes apparent during teenage years, caused by an abnormality in the spine. More common in boys than girls, this stops progressing once growth is complete. Can sometimes be painful with activity or long periods of standing or sitting.
- Congenital Kyphosis – birth defect occurring when the spinal column fails to develop normally in utero. This will generally worsen as the child ages. Often requires surgery at a very young age to stop progression.
While symptoms may vary depending on cause and severity of the curvature, general symptoms include rounded shoulders, visible hump, mild back pain, fatigue, spine stiffness, and tight hamstrings. If curvatures progress over time, patients may experience weakness, numbness, or tingling in the legs, loss of sensation, and shortness of breath.
Upon examination, your doctor will take a medical history and press on the spine to determine if any areas are tender. Your child will be asked to bend forward, allowing the doctor to see the slope of the spine and observe any deformity. X-Rays will be needed to determine if there are any other abnormalities or changes in the vertebrae, and to measure the degree of the curvature.
Treatment to stop the progression of the curvature and prevent deformity is generally needed. For Postural and Scheuermann’s Kyphosis, surgery is generally not needed if the curve is less than 75 degrees. Physical therapy to relieve any pain and improve posture, along with stretching and strengthening areas of the body affected by the spinal misalignment are recommended. NSAIDs may also be prescribed to help relieve pain.
You may also be required to wear a back brace, specifically with Scheuermann’s Kyphosis in still-growing adolescents. The type of brace and length of wear will depend on the curvature. Typically, the brace is worn until the child stops growing.
In the case of Congenital Kyphosis, spinal fusion surgery is often recommended to fuse together two affected vertebrae, reducing the curve and eliminating motion to alleviate pain. Only the curved vertebrae are fused, leaving the rest of the spine to move, bend, straighten, and rotate.
With early diagnosis, a majority of patients can be successfully treated without surgery. When left untreated, however, spinal curvatures can lead to problems into adulthood. Regular check-ups are required to monitor the condition and check progression of the curve.