What you Need to Know About Kyphosis

Kyphosis, also known as Scheuermann's disease when it occurs in adolescents, is a forward curve of the spine. This curvature lends the person with the condition a hunchback appearance.

Complications

Aside from the distinctive look that kyphosis lends the patient, it can cause moderate to severe back pain. In severe cases, the curvature of the spine can affect the patient's ability to breathe.

Causes

Kyphosis occurs when the vertebrae in the upper spine begin to break down on the side facing the body, leading them to become wedge-shaped and begin to curve inward. This curving may have several causes.

  • Osteoporosis is a major cause of spinal curvature in the elderly. When someone has osteoporosis, the bones begin to break down, causing compression fractures. Over time, this leads to a curved spine.
  • Conditions that affect the spine or the muscles or nerves around the spine, such as muscular dystrophy, neurofibromatosis, Paget's disease, polio, spina bifida, and tumors near the spine can also lead to a spinal curvature.
  • Degenerative disc disease may also lead to a spinal curvature. When a patient has degenerative disc disease, the discs between the vertebrae of their spine dry out and shrivel, allowing the vertebrae to lean forward.
  • Cancer of the spine can cause the vertebrae to become weak. In addition, chemotherapy and radiation for all types of cancer can weaken vertebrae and make spinal curvature more likely.
  • Scheuermann's disease is congenital. This condition typically begins to develop around puberty.
  • Birth defects can also cause the condition. However, a spinal curvature that occurs at birth is very rare.

Tests

Kyphosis is typically initially identified by a visual check of the patient's spine. When a physician suspects a spinal curvature, he or she usually follows up with imaging tests, such as an x-ray, a CT scan, or an MRI. These imaging tests confirm the diagnosis as well as provide the physician with an idea of the degree of the curvature. Having this information helps determine the treatment options.

In addition to measuring and diagnosing the curvature, other tests may be needed to determine the extent of the damage to other areas of the body. When nerve damage is suspected, the physician will often order nerve tests that measure nerve activity in the region. If the condition is affecting the patient's ability to breathe, a pulmonary function test can provide the physician with information about the severity of the problem. This test measures how efficiently and quickly the patient can fill and empty their lungs.

Treatments

The treatment the physician selects depends on the cause of the condition.

  • Congenital problems with the spine that lead to a curvature that occurs during childhood is often corrected with surgery.
  • Scheuermann's disease is typically corrected with physical therapy and the use of braces.
  • When the condition is due to osteoporosis, it is usually left alone. However, the osteoporosis is treated to prevent the condition from becoming more pronounced.

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