Kyphosis

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While some causes of spinal pain originate deep inside the body and aren’t visible to the naked eye, kyphosis is a spinal condition that is painful and disfiguring. Kyphosis gradually causes an abnormal curvature to the upper spine, causing a hunchback (also sometimes called a dowager’s hump.) Most cases of kyphosis result from untreated osteoporosis. If you’re unable to stand perfectly straight because your spine has developed a forward curvature, it’s time to consult with a spine doctor. The sooner kyphosis patients begin treatment, the less prominent the hunchback posture will become.

Osteoporosis: The Most Common Cause of Kyphosis

Osteoporosis is a bone disease characterized by weak, porous, brittle bones. Osteoporotic bones have lost much of their density, which means they’re more susceptible to fractures, compression, and breaking. Osteoporosis, which is most common in women, occurs when the body resorbs old bone faster than it produces new bone.

Osteoporosis-related kyphosis occurs when the weakened front section of vertebrae compresses due to the softer, more porous tissues in the bone. This compression causes the front of the spinal bones to become shorter while the back of the spinal bones retain their original height. This difference in bone height creates a wedge shape. Because the front of the bone essentially flattens, that section of upper spine naturally shifts forward, creating the telltale hunchback presentation. If you have osteoporosis-related kyphosis, your spine doctor will focus on reversing and/or preventing osteoporosis.

Less Common Causes of Kyphosis

In addition to osteoporosis-related kyphosis, adults may also develop:

  • Degenerative kyphosis, which is usually caused by degenerative disc disease, spinal arthritis, and/or long-term wear and tear on the spine.
  • Postural kyphosis, which is caused by excessive slouching and/or bad posture over a long period of time. (This type of kyphosis can affect patients of all ages.)
  • Traumatic kyphosis, which develops when a vertebrae fracture or injury to spinal ligaments does not heal properly. (This is one reason why anyone who injures their back should see not only a general pain specialist but a spine doctor that can treat pain and ensure the injury will heal properly.)
  • Latrogenic kyphosis, which occurs as a result of medical treatment. This type of kyphosis is a rare complication that sometimes develops after a spinal surgery.

When Should You Suspect You Have Kyphosis?

As with many spinal abnormalities, before kyphosis progresses to a more advanced stage, individuals may not realize they have it. The most obvious symptom of kyphosis is a gradual change to the appearance of the back. A healthy spine is straight. A spine with kyphosis curves forward – even when you are attempting to stand perfectly straight.

In addition to the hunchback appearance, other symptoms of kyphosis include back and neck aches and spinal pain and stiffness. In advanced cases of this condition, when a very pronounced hunchback has developed, the vertebrae put excess pressure on the nerves of the spine, and cause organs to become compressed. This causes extreme pain and a host of additional problems stemming from the organs’ inability to function properly.

How Will A Spine Doctor Diagnose Kyphosis?

While a spine doctor may suspect you have kyphosis simply by the presence of a hunchback, he or she will conduct diagnostic tests to confirm that initial suspicion. He or she will most likely order X-rays, a CT (CAT) scan, an MRI, and/or nerve tests if you’re having muscle numbness or weakness.

Treatment Options for Kyphosis

Patients who receive a kyphosis diagnosis will be carefully evaluated by their spine doctor who will assess the cause and severity of the disorder, and then develop a tailored kyphosis treatment plan. While there are several nonsurgical treatment options, in more severe cases, your doctor may recommend surgery.

Non-surgical kyphosis treatment options include:

  • Prescription and/or over-the-counter pain relievers
  • Osteoporosis medicines to promote bone-strengthening and minimize the risk of worsening kyphosis symptoms
  • An exercise regimen or physical therapy involving stretching
  • Wearing a body brace
  • Losing weight or maintaining a healthy weight by staying active

In some cases, a spine doctor or pain specialist will conclude that surgery is the best course of action. Surgical intervention can alleviate pain by reversing pinched nerves in the spinal cord. Spinal fusion surgery (which connects affected vertebrae with metal rods that hold the spine in proper alignment until it can heal correctly) is the most common surgery used to treat kyphosis.

If You Suspect Kyphosis, Visit A Spine Doctor As Soon As Possible

If you have a spinal curvature, excessive upper back pain or stiffness, and/or numbness or muscle weakness, Space City Pain Specialists can help. Our pain treatment centers serve patients throughout the Greater Houston-area. If you’re interested in having your spinal pain treated rather than managed, contact us today to request an appointment.

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