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.