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Alternative Names
roundback, humpback, hunchback, Scheuermann's disease, dowager's hump, Pott's curvature

Kyphosis is the abnormal forward bending of the spine. In kyphosis, the curve of the spine is abnormal, forming a hump.

What is going on in the body?
The normal spine rounds slightly in the chest area, with arching in the lower back and neck regions. Excessive kyphosis can occur mainly in the chest area of the spine, causing the roundness of the back to appear exaggerated.

What are the signs and symptoms of the condition?
Symptoms are usually minimal, unless the deformity is severe. In that case, the back may ache or, rarely, nerve problems may arise. The hamstrings, or muscles at the back of the thigh, may also be tight.

What are the causes and risks of the condition?
Kyphosis is generally caused by an abnormal posture. Other possible causes include:
  • a significant fracture of the vertebra, which can cause the back to angle forward
  • spinal surgery
  • Scheuermann's disease, which results in wedging of the vertebrae. This disease is usually seen in teenage boys, and its cause is unknown.
  • Pott's disease, which refers to kyphosis due to collapse of the vertebra when tuberculosis infects the spine
  • osteoporosis in elderly women, which causes a type of kyphosis known as dowager's hump
  • spinal tumours, or surgery to remove them
  • nerve disorders
What can be done to prevent the condition?
Most cases of kyphosis cannot be prevented. The risk of osteoporosis and fractures of the spine can be lowered if a person has an adequate intake of calcium and regular weight-bearing exercise. Hormone replacement therapy can help prevent osteoporosis in perimenopausal women. Early treatment of tuberculosis can help prevent Pott's disease.

How is the condition diagnosed?
Kyphosis is diagnosed based on signs of forward bending of the spine, confirmed by x-ray.

What are the long-term effects of the condition?
Long-term effects are minimal to none if the deformity is mild. There is an increased chance of backache and concern about one's physical appearance. With Scheuermann's disease, there is possible progression during adolescence.

What are the risks to others?
There are no risks to others.

What are the treatments for the condition?
Certain exercises may improve kyphosis related to posture. In growing children with significant Scheuermann's disease, bracing may be needed. Spinal fusion surgery is rarely needed.

What are the side effects of the treatments?
Surgery can possibly lead to infection, failure of the bone to fuse, or spinal cord or nerve injury.

What happens after treatment for the condition?
Progressive kyphosis may occur in spite of exercises and bracing.

How is the condition monitored?
One should watch for potential worsening of posture. Any new or worsening symptoms should be reported to the doctor.

Author: John A.K. Davies, MD
Reviewer: HealthAnswers Australia Medical Review Panel
Editor: Dr David Taylor, Chief Medical Officer HealthAnswers Australia
Last Updated: 1/10/2001
Potential conflict of interest information for reviewers available on request

This website and article is not a substitute for independent professional advice. Nothing contained in this website is intended to be used as medical advice and it is not intended to be used to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease, nor should it be used for therapeutic purposes or as a substitute for your own health professional's advice.  All Health and any associated parties do not accept any liability for any injury, loss or damage incurred by use of or reliance on the information.


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