Key Points about Kyphosis (Hunchback)
- Kyphosis most often occurs in older women, most of who also have osteoporosis.
- Specialists diagnose kyphosis using a combination of a physical exam, neurological tests and imaging tests.
- Kyphosis is treated using a combination of pain relievers, osteoporosis medication, therapies and lifestyle modifications.
Kyphosis – also known as hunchback – causes a forward rounding of the back. Though it is most common in older women, kyphosis can occur at any age. The condition typically doesn’t cause any symptoms besides the rounded back, but kyphosis can cause stiffness and pain in the back.
Kyphosis can be caused by:
- Congenital (present at birth) deformity
- Disk degeneration
- Fractures of the vertebrae (small bones of the spine)
- Other syndromes, including Ehlers-Danlos syndrome or Marfan syndrome
- Radiation treatment to the spine
- Scheuermann’s disease
- Spinal cancer
Kyphosis risk factors
Factors that put you at an increased risk for developing kyphosis include:
- Being older
- Having a congenital spine deformity
- Having disk degeneration
- Having Ehlers-Danlos syndrome
- Having Marfan syndrome
- Having osteoporosis
- Having Scheuermann’s disease
- Having suffered a vertebrae fracture
- Having undergone radiation treatment for spinal cancer
Besides the main sign of the rounded back, kyphosis typically doesn’t cause any signs or symptoms. When they do occur, people with this condition may experience pain and stiffness in their back.
Your specialist may recommend one or more of the following tests to diagnose kyphosis:
Physical exam. Your specialist will complete a physical examination. You may need to bend forward while your specialist checks your spine from the side.
Neurological exam. Your specialist may use this test to check your reflexes and muscle strength. Nerve tests can check how well nerve impulses are traveling in your body.
Imaging tests. Your doctor may order imaging tests – such as X-ray, computerized tomography (CT) scan or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan – to get a detailed image of your spine, as well as check for infection or a tumor in the spine.
Bone density test. Because kyphosis can weaken your bones, your doctor may recommend you undergo this test to check your bone strength.
Your specialist may recommend one or more of the following treatment options for kyphosis:
Pain relievers. Depending on your level of pain, your specialist may recommend over-the-counter or prescription pain relievers to help ease your symptoms.
Osteoporosis medication. Your specialist may prescribe an osteoporosis medication to help strengthen your bones and slow the progression of your kyphosis.
Exercises. You may want to practice strengthening exercises to improve your flexibility and decrease your back pain.
Lifestyle modifications. Your doctor may recommend certain lifestyle modifications to slow the progression of the condition or reduce your symptoms. These modifications include eating a diet rich in calcium and vitamin D, not smoking or using tobacco products and limiting your alcohol consumption.
When should I seek care?
If you experience any of these symptoms, start by voicing your concerns and symptoms to your primary care provider. From there, your doctor may suggest seeing a spine specialist for more specialized treatment.