Kyphosis

Kyphosis, or curvature of the spine, is rounding of the upper back. A small amount is normal. Too much, or excessive kyphosis, can cause pain and reduce your ability to function.

We track patients carefully and adjust treatment as needed because kyphosis tends to get worse over time. Treatment depends on the severity of your symptoms, how long you’ve had them and whether your pain gets better with medication.

Causes

Kyphosis can be present at birth. Other causes include:

  • Metabolic problems (problems with the body's energy system)
  • Nerve or muscle problems
  • Osteogenesis imperfecta, a condition that causes bones to break easily
  • Spina bifida
  • Scheuermann's disease, a condition that causes the upper vertebrae (spinal bones) to curve forward
  • Poor posture or slouching
  • Arthritis of the spine
  • Cancer or benign tumors

Symptoms 

  • Difference in shoulder height
  • Difference in shoulder blade height or position
  • The head bends forward compared with the rest of the body
  • When bending forward, the upper back looks higher than normal
  • Tight hamstring (back thigh) muscles 

The symptoms may resemble those of other spinal conditions, or may be a result of an injury or infection. Back pain, pain down the legs, and changes in bowel and bladder habits are not common symptoms of kyphosis.

Nonsurgical treatments

Mild or moderate symptoms can often be treated without surgery, an approach the OHSU Spine Clinic favors whenever possible.

  • Physical therapy: A physical therapist can offer treatment and exercises to strengthen your lower back and help relieve pain.
  • Bracing: This is an option for children.
  • Observation and repeated examinations to measure curve progression (for children).

Minimally invasive treatments

  • Epidural steroid injections: Injections can treat pain caused by pressure on spinal nerves.
  • Kyphoplasty: Plastic cement is placed in a vertebra (spinal bone) using a needle and balloon device. The procedure can stabilize the spine and reduce pain.
  • Vertebroplasty: This treatment, similar to kyphoplasty, also uses plastic cement to hold broken vertebrae together to stabilize the spine and reduce pain.

Surgical treatments

Surgery may be recommended if you have severe kyphosis, if other treatments don’t help, or if you have severe pain and weakness that affects your mobility.