Kyphosis describes the exaggerated curve of the spine that results in a rounded or hunched back. It may develop for several reasons. Postural kyphosis in children and adolescents may be related to habit and posture rather than underlying spinal deformity. In contrast, structural kyphosis is caused by an abnormality affecting the bones, intervertebral discs, nerves, ligaments or muscles.
In adolescents, structural kyphosis may be caused by initial spine development with a rounded shape that is made worse by further growth. In the elderly, compression fractures characteristically result in loss of height and deformity.
The most prominent symptom of kyphosis is a slouching posture or hunchback. Other symptoms include:
The diagnosis of kyphosis is based on physical examination of the spine and X-rays. Your doctor may ask you to bend forward so that he or she can evaluate the spine in the position of maximal extension to assess the flexibility of the spine and the structural nature of the deformity.
Treatment depends on the severity of the deformity. In patients with a flexible deformity, physical therapy and attention to posture may result in significant improvement. In patients with rigid deformity of the spine, surgery may be needed.
Surgery for kyphosis involves extending the rounded spine, fusing vertebrae together and using braces to maintain correction. In older patients with kyphosis that is related to compression fractures and osteoporosis, kyphosis may be corrected with a minimally invasive procedure called a balloon kyphoplasty. During this procedure a small balloon is inserted, through a small incision, into the collapsed bone to restore its shape. It is then filled with a substance that hardens and helps the bone expand.
Reviewed by health care specialists at UCSF Medical Center.
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