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Kyphosis

What is kyphosis?

A normal spine, when viewed from behind appears straight. However, a spine affected by kyphosis shows evidence of a forward curvature of the back bones (vertebrae) in the upper back area, giving the child an abnormally rounded or "humpback" appearance.

Illustration of a child with kyphosis
Click Image to Enlarge

Kyphosis is defined as a curvature of the spine measuring 50 degrees or greater on an x-ray (a diagnostic test which uses invisible electromagnetic energy beams to produce images of internal tissues, bones, and organs onto film). The normal spine can bend from 20 to 45 degrees of curvature in the upper back area.

Kyphosis is a type of spinal deformity and should not be confused with poor posture.

What causes kyphosis?

Kyphosis can be congenital (present at birth), or due to acquired conditions that may include the following:

  • metabolic problems
  • neuromuscular conditions
  • osteogenesis imperfecta - also called "brittle bone disease." A condition that causes bones to fracture with minimal force.
  • spina bifida
  • Scheuermann's disease - a condition that causes the vertebrae to curve forward in the upper back area. The cause of Scheuermann's disease is unknown and is commonly seen in males.

Kyphosis is more common in females than males.

What are the symptoms of kyphosis?

The following are the most common symptoms of kyphosis. However, each child may experience symptoms differently. Symptoms may include:

  • difference in shoulder height
  • the head bends forward compared to the rest of the body
  • difference in shoulder blade height or position
  • when bending forward, the height of the upper back appears higher than normal
  • tight hamstrings (back thigh) muscles

Back pain, pain down the legs, and changes in bowel and bladder habits are not commonly associated with kyphosis. A child experiencing these types of symptoms requires further medical evaluation by a physician.

The symptoms of kyphosis may resemble other spinal conditions or deformities, or may be a result of an injury or infection. Always consult your child's physician for a diagnosis.

How is kyphosis diagnosed?

The physician makes the diagnosis of kyphosis with a complete medical history of the child, physical examination, and diagnostic tests. The physician obtains a complete prenatal and birth history of the child and asks if other family members are known to have kyphosis. The physician also will ask about developmental milestones since some types of kyphosis can be associated with other neuromuscular disorders. Developmental delays may require further medical evaluation.

Diagnostic procedures may include the following:

  • x-rays - a diagnostic test which uses invisible electromagnetic energy beams to produce images of internal tissues, bones, and organs onto film. This test is used to measure and evaluate the curve. With the use of a full-spine x-ray, the physician or radiologist measures the angle of the spinal curve. A determination for treatment can often be made based on this measurement.
  • bone scans - a nuclear imaging method to evaluate any degenerative and/or arthritic changes in the joints; to detect bone diseases and tumors; to determine the cause of bone pain or inflammation. This test is to rule out any infection or fractures.
  • magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) - a diagnostic procedure that uses a combination of large magnets, radiofrequencies, and a computer to produce detailed images of organs and structures within the body. This test is done to rule out any associated abnormalities of the spinal cord and nerves.
  • computed tomography scan (Also called a CT or CAT scan.) - a diagnostic imaging procedure that uses a combination of x-rays and computer technology to produce cross-sectional images (often called slices), both horizontally and vertically, of the body. A CT scan shows detailed images of any part of the body, including the bones, muscles, fat, and organs. CT scans are more detailed than general x-rays.
  • blood tests

Early detection of kyphosis is important for successful treatment. Pediatricians or family physicians, and even some school programs, routinely look for signs that kyphosis may be present.

Treatment of kyphosis:

Specific treatment for kyphosis will be determined by your child's physician based on:

  • your child's age, overall health, and medical history
  • the extent of the condition
  • your child's tolerance for specific medications, procedures, or therapies
  • expectations for the course of the condition
  • your opinion or preference

The goal of treatment is to stop the progression of the curve and prevent deformity. According to the Scoliosis Research Society, treatment may include:

  • observation and repeated examinations
    The child will need observation and repeated examinations. Progression of the curve depends upon the amount of skeletal growth, or how skeletally mature, the child is. Curve progression slows down or stops after the child reaches puberty.
  • bracing
    If the child is still growing, the physician may prescribe a brace. The type of brace and the amount of time spent in the brace will be determined by your child's physician.
  • surgery
    In rare instances, surgery is recommended when the curve measures 75 degrees or more on x-ray and bracing is not successful in slowing down the progression of the curve.

Long-term outlook for a child with kyphosis:

The treatment of kyphosis is individualized for each child, depending on his/her age, amount of curvature, and amount of time remaining for skeletal growth. Kyphosis will require frequent examinations by your child's physician to monitor the curve as your child grows and develops. Early detection is important. If left untreated, kyphosis can lead to problems with lung function.

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