Do you have Kyphosis? Find out what your symptoms mean—in a few painless clicks.
What is Kyphosis?
When viewed from the front, a typical spine will appear to be a straight column. However, when viewed from the side, we know that the spine curves forward and backward in particular locations of the back.
A typical spine will curve forward on the lumbar (lower) and cervical (neck) portions of the vertebral column; the thoracic (rib cage) section will curve backward. The spine is structured in this manner to best support our movement, weight distribution, and the balance of our head upon our shoulders. It is when one of these spinal sections rounds in a different or exaggerated direction that we may run into problems.
Kyphosis is a condition in which the thoracic spine is abnormally rounded forward, leading to a hunched over appearance. This condition is most often witnessed in older women, but can affect other populations for a variety of reasons.
Common causes of kyphosis include:
- Osteoporosis-Related: Vertebral fractures related to osteoporosis are the most common cause of kyphosis in adulthood. As vertebrae become excessively porous and weaken from osteoporosis, they tend to fracture on the anterior (front side) of the spinal column. This leads to wedge-shaped vertebrae, which are shorter on the front side than the back side of the spine. This vertebral shape enhances the exaggerated forward curving of the thoracic spine.
- Degenerative: Caused by the wear and tear of the spinal column and may be associated with spinal arthritis or the degeneration of intervertebral discs.
- Latrogenic: Resulting from failed surgery of the spine, especially decompressive spinal surgeries.
- Postural: Results from poor posture and can affect either adolescents or adults
- Scheuermann’s Disease: Occurs in adolescence or young adulthood due to abnormal growth of the spine.
- Congenital: Found in babies and children due to malformations that occur in the womb.
Not sure if you have kyphosis? To find out, use the Check Condition assessment in the Diagnostic Tools section of our website or contact one of our patient advocates at (212) 506-0240. Reclaim your life from chronic back pain—and rediscover what pain-free living looks like!
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What are the Symptoms of Kyphosis?
The most recognizable and common symptom of kyphosis is the visual appearance of the condition. Kyphosis is defined by an exaggerated curve in the upper back that is typically noted as a hump-like shape. This is not to say, however, that everyone with poor posture has kyphosis; the key difference is the exaggeration of the hump. Medically, a 50% curve typically indicates a kyphotic curve. Other symptoms that may be present could include the following:
- Pain: Pain can be present in the upper back, lower back, or shoulders, especially if there are vertebral compression fractures associated with your condition. In many cases, however, pain is not actually present and normal activities are not disrupted.
- Tight Hamstrings: Our legs act as a stabilizer for our body. Hamstrings can become tight and strained as they work to compensate for the forward momentum of weight caused by exaggerated curving.
- Shoulder Disparities: There can be a visible difference in the height or positioning of the shoulder blades.
- Head Location: The head may bend forward compared to the rest of the body. Sometimes, in extreme cases, the crown of the head can be facing outward while the face points toward the ground.
- Respiratory Symptoms: At times, the curve of the back can cause compression of the lungs, resulting in breathing difficulties.
- Severe Cases: In severe cases, the extreme curvature of the back can lead to pinching of the spinal cord, resulting in neurological symptoms such as tingling, weakness, immobility, or loss of bowel or bladder control. If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, please seek immediate medical attention.
Are you concerned about any of the symptoms of kyphosis listed above? Harvard-trained Dr. Frazier of NYC Spine has nearly 20 years of experience in diagnosing and treating kyphosis and other spinal issues.
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What are the Treatments for Kyphosis?
In order to diagnose kyphosis, your doctor may complete a physical exam along with one of a variety of imaging options including X-rays, CT scans, or MRIs. Additionally, your doctor may order nerve tests to diagnose any problems that might exist with nerve conduction, or the traveling of nerve impulses along the spine.
Kyphosis, unfortunately, cannot be cured. However, there are many treatments that can help to alleviate and maybe even reverse some of the symptoms of this condition. Your doctor may recommend or prescribe any of the following conservative treatment options: physical therapy, exercises such as yoga or strength-building, nutrition consultation, or bracing in certain situations. Medications, such as pain-relievers or prescription drugs for osteoporosis, may be prescribed depending on your situation.
Although most people will benefit from the more minimally invasive treatments listed above, a very small percentage of people with kyphosis will require surgery. Surgery may be especially important for those who are experiencing cardiac symptoms, respiratory disruption, or pinching of the spinal cord as result of their kyphosis. For those individuals who do require surgical treatment, our Harvard-trained, board certified surgeon, Dr. Frazier, may recommend one the following techniques:
- Minimally Invasive Spinal Fusion (ALIF, TLIF, XLIF): These procedures involve surgically fusing two or more vertebrae together so that they may heal in a more correct position. The minimally invasive versions of these procedures disrupt less of the body’s internal anatomy, resulting in less scar tissue and postoperative pain than traditional open back methods.
- Kyphoplasty: This minimally-invasive procedure involves the insertion of a balloon into the affected vertebrae. This balloon is inflated and subsequently creates a space in the collapsed vertebra. A cement-like substance will be injected into the space created by the balloon, hardening, and creating a permanent structure to maintain the space created.
- Vertebroplasty: Vertebroplasty, like Kyphoplasty, uses PMMA (polymethylmethacrylate) cement to maintain proper vertebral structure. However, unlike Kyphoplasty, the PMMA is injected into the vertebral body without the aid of a balloon.
Here at NYC Spine, we pride ourselves on treating each client as a person instead of a patient. Dr. Frazier strives to provide the highest quality of personalized care for your condition, and will work with you to find the best therapies and treatment.
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Dr. Frazier is a Harvard-trained, board certified orthopedic spine surgeon. He’s held an academic appointment at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons and New York’s SUNY Downstate. Dr. Frazier is also a respected lecturer, accomplished researcher, published author on spine disorders and treatment, and a consultant for several international spine companies.
After completing his undergraduate education at Brown University, Dr. Frazier attended Harvard Medical School, where he graduated cum laude. He completed a Harvard internship based at the New England Deaconess Hospital in Boston, MA, followed by a Harvard combined residency before becoming chief resident at Massachusetts General Hospital.
Education & Training
MD / cum Laude, Boston MA
Harvard Medical School
Residency, Boston MA
Harvard Combined Orthopedic Residency
Chief Residency, Boston MA
Harvard Mass. General Hospital
Spinal Deformity Fellowship, Miami FL
Doctor's Hospital, Shufflebarger Fellowship
Academic Appointments, NY, NY
Columbia University; SUNY Downstate
Nuvasive, Depuy & Stryker International Spine Cos.