Kyphosis is a spinal condition that can often be treated with physical therapy and pain-relieving medications. But kyphosis can also cause severe spinal curvature and pain, making surgery the best option.

While there are many types of kyphosis, this spinal condition generally creates a spinal curve and causes the top of your back to appear rounded. The condition can appear in older adults over time, as well as in childhood when it might worsen and progress as a child grows. Typically, progression stops once a child is done growing.

For some people with kyphosis, a slight rounding of the upper back is the only symptom. When this is the case, treatment might not be needed at all. However, other people have severe curves that can lead to symptoms such as back pain, spinal tenderness, fatigue, and even abnormalities that create a higher risk of falling.

When kyphosis leads to more serious symptoms, surgery is sometimes the best treatment option. The most common surgery for treating kyphosis is spinal fusion.

Kyphosis that has a genetic link or that’s caused by changes to the vertebrae, such as fractures, tumors, or a condition called Scheuermann’s disease, can often be corrected with surgery.

Posture-related kyphosis is typically treated with physical therapy and lifestyle changes. People with postural kyphosis are not typically good candidates for surgery.

You can read more about kyphosis types, symptoms, and other treatment options here.

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Surgery is typically only recommended when kyphosis produces severe symptoms and when other treatments are unlikely to help. This is because surgery for kyphosis can be complex, and there’s a risk of complications.

However, it can be the best option when your spinal curve:

  • is causing chronic pain that is not well managed with medications
  • is very visible and pronounced
  • interferes with respiratory or nervous system function
  • causes a significant chance of spinal deterioration without surgery
  • has been getting worse despite nonsurgical treatments
  • affects your balance, making it difficult for you to walk and complete daily tasks

Spinal fusion surgery for kyphosis is done under general anesthesia. It takes between 4 and 8 hours.

The curve is straightened using metal rods, hooks, and screws. Your spine will be fused with bone grafts. Typically, these grafts will be taken from a bone in another area of your body.

Since you’ll be under general anesthesia, you will not feel anything during the surgery itself.

You’ll likely have some pain and soreness in the weeks following surgery, but you’ll be prescribed medications to help manage your pain.

You’ll stay in the hospital for about a week following your spinal fusion operation.

During this time, your care team will prescribe medication to help manage your pain. Doctors and other staff will help you sit, stand, and move. You might also receive a back brace to wear for support while your spine heals.

Most people can return to work or school after about a month, but it’s best to limit physical activities to gentle, low impact activities, such as walking, for at least 2 months.

After 2 months, you’ll likely begin physical therapy. Your physical therapist will help you regain the strength, flexibility, and balance you’ll need to return to all previous activities.

Many people who have kyphosis surgery report that they have a much easier time moving and have much less pain than they did before surgery by about 3–6 months after surgery. However, your individual recovery timeline and experience will vary.

Your doctor and surgeon can give you an idea of what to expect based on your specific kyphosis curvature. Your physical therapist can help you keep track of your progress along the way.

Surgery is not the only treatment option for kyphosis. For many people, other, less invasive treatments, might be a better choice. Other treatment options include:

  • Lifestyle changes: Sometimes steps such as maintaining a moderate weight and increasing physical activity can help improve symptoms.
  • Physical therapy: Physical therapy can help people improve their posture. This can help reduce pain and prevent further spinal curvature.
  • Spinal bracing: A spinal brace can help support the spine and relieve pain.
  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs): Your doctor might recommend over-the-counter (OTC) NSAIDs, such as ibuprofen or naproxen, or they might prescribe stronger NSAIDs to help you manage the pain.
  • Calcium and vitamin D: People with a family history of osteoporosis can help slow the progression of kyphosis with these supplements.

Kyphosis is a spinal condition that causes a curvature at the top of the spine. Often, this condition can be treated with noninvasive measures such as physical therapy and pain medications.

However, in severe cases, kyphosis can cause significant pain that is not relieved with medications. That can make it difficult to walk and complete daily tasks. When this happens, surgery can be the best treatment option. Kyphosis is treated with spinal fusion surgery. This surgery takes about 4–8 hours and is done under general anesthesia.

After surgery, it typically takes at least a month before returning to work or school is advised. Full movement and pain relief typically occur within about 3–6 months.