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What Is Kyphosis?

Kyphosis describes a spinal curve that exists primarily in the thoracic spine (12 vertebrae in the upper back). Kyphosis causes rounding of the upper back or hunchback. Some degree of rounding is normal and is found in every individual. Kyphosis is more common in women than men. Symptoms may include back pain and stiffness, fatigue, or in severe cases difficulty breathing.

Common Causes

More severe forms of kyphotic deformities (excessive kyphosis) may be caused by:

  • Degenerative diseases of the spine such as arthritis or degenerative disc disease
    Compression fractures caused by osteoporosis (a disease of bones where the bone mineral density is reduced)
    Injury or trauma
    Spondylolithesis (slipping of the vertebra)
    Slouching or poor posture
    Adolescent kyphosis, or Scheuermann’s disease (a skeletal disorder of childhood), is caused by the wedging together of several vertebrae.


To receive a diagnosis, a qualified musculoskeletal expert will first take a medical history and conduct a physical exam. They will do a full exam and look for any neurological symptoms such as weakness, paralysis, and changes in sensation below the curve.

Diagnostic tests such as x-rays, MRI, CT scans, or pulmonary function tests may be ordered.


Conservative treatments include physical therapy and bracing. Your doctor might suggest pain relievers to help alleviate discomfort. In more severe cases, surgical treatment can be performed to reduce the curve of the spine.


Treating and preventing osteoporosis can prevent many cases of kyphosis in the elderly. Early diagnosis and bracing with Scheuermann’s disease can reduce the need for surgery, but there is no way to prevent the disease.

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