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Kyphosis: How to Correct the Rounded Upper Back

Kyphosis is a spine disorder which involves exaggerated forward curving in the upper back. In some cases it can’t be noticed, but in others it does create a hump in the back, giving the typical hunchback appearance.
This spine disorder can affect both men and women, regardless of the age. Kyphosis usually develops in the upper back, called thoracic kyphosis, and rarely in the neck and the lower part of the back.
It can cause various complications in life, including back pain, thus difficulty performing everyday activities; body image problems, especially in adolescents; and lack of appetite, when the curve is severe and compresses the abdomen.
Symptoms of Kyphosis
The symptoms of kyphosis can range from mild to severe, and can vary depending on the cause. However, here are the most common symptoms of this back condition:
A hunched forward appearance, mostly noticed when the person bends forward
Loss of height
Back pain which can range from mild to severe
Difficulty standing in an upright position which worsens throughout the day
Fatigue
In severe cases, the patient can notice other symptoms such as difficulty breathing and eating.
Besides the severity of symptoms, in order to treat this condition properly, you need to know the underlying cause of your kyphosis.
Causes of Kyphosis
Besides the unhealthy daily habits such as improper and prolonged sitting, lack of rest and physical activities, lifting heavy objects, etc., here are the most common causes of kyphosis:
1. Osteoporosis
Osteoporosis is the most common cause of kyphosis. This serious condition weakens the vertebral bones in the spine, making the vertebrae prone to fractures. The most common shape of this type of fracture causes collapsing of the front part of the vertebra, losing its height, while the back of the vertebra keeps its height. Since the front of the bone is crushed, that part of the spine bends forward forming an excessive kyphotic curve.
Treatment: pain reduction, treatment of osteoporosis to prevent another fracture, and possibly surgery to repair the fracture.
2. Birth Defects
This type of kyphosis usually occurs in infants and young children, which means it can’t be prevented. It occurs when the baby’s spine isn’t developed properly in the womb, known as congenital kyphosis.
Treatment: Surgery when the child is small in order to re-align the spine and stop the progression of the curvature.
3. Spinal Arthritis
This form of kyphosis is known as degenerative kyphosis since there’s degeneration of the discs due to spinal arthritis. It develops as a result of wear and tear on the spine over time.
Treatment: exercise, pain medication, physical therapy, and rarely surgery.
4. Neuromuscular disorder
This form of kyphosis is known as neuromuscular kyphosis and develops due to spina bifida, cerebral palsy, or muscular dystrophy. It mostly affects children.
Treatment: A surgery might be an option.
5. Vitamin Deficiency
Kyphosis might even appear due to lack of certain vitamin, such as vitamin D. Although it can children, it’s most common in adults. In some cases it can be prevented by eating a proper diet and leading a healthy lifestyle. This form is known as nutritional kyphosis.
6. Poor Posture and Slouching
This form of kyphosis is called postural kyphosis and can affect both young and old people. It’s more common in women than in men, and it’s rarely painful.
Treatment: exercises to strengthen back and abdominal muscles which will improve the posture and correct the excessive curvature.
7. Scheuermann’s Disease
Patients with Scheuermann’s Disease have abnormal growth of the spine and discs, which can’t be prevented. It usually affects male adolescents or adults. People with Scheuermann’s kyphosis can also have a mild scoliosis. With this type of kyphosis, it’s very important to treat it as soon as possible.
Treatment: physical therapy and exercise to strengthen abdominal muscles and improve the flexibility of spine, low-impact sports, and adolescents with at least 45 degrees curvature are also recommended to wear braces for a long-term corrective effect. Surgery is required only if the curvature is progressive and is greater than 70 degrees.
8. Mis-aligned Healing of a Spinal Fracture
This form of kyphosis is called traumatic kyphosis, and can also appear is the supporting ligaments of the spine are injured.
9. Complication of Surgical Treatment of the Spine
In some cases, kyphosis can occur as a result of medical intervention, called iatrogenic kyphosis. The most common type of iatrogenic kyphosis is post-laminectomy kyphosis, which develops as a result of decompressive spine surgery for removing the spinous processes, intervening ligaments, and laminae – posterior spine elements. These surgeries are usually required for removing tumor in adolescents and children.
10. Cancer or Metastatic Processes in Vertebrae
Cancer, chemotherapy, and radiation can weaken vertebrae, making them more susceptible to compression fractures.
General Treatment
Overall, mild kyphosis can be corrected with specific exercise when diagnosed in children. If it can’t be corrected, the goal of the treatment would be to prevent the curve from progressing, as it can lead to problems with the function of internal organs such as heart and lungs. The treatment is long and requires consistency and patience.
When to See a Doctor?
As soon as you notice an increased curve in your upper back. The doctor will get an accurate diagnosis through the patient’s history, a physical exam, MRI scan, or an X-ray.