What Causes Kyphosis?

Conditions list medically reviewed by George Krucik, MD, MBA

Kyphosis, also known as roundback or hunchback, is a condition in which the spine in the upper back has an excessive curvature. The upper back, or thoracic region of the spine, is supposed to have a slight natural curve. The spine naturally curves... Read More

Kyphosis, also known as roundback or hunchback, is a condition in which the spine in the upper back has an excessive curvature. The upper back, or thoracic region of the spine, is supposed to have a slight natural curve. The spine naturally curves in the neck, upper back, and lower back to help absorb shock and support the weight of the head. Kyphosis occurs when this natural arch is larger than normal.

If you have kyphosis, you may have a visible hump on your upper back. From the side, your upper back may be noticeably rounded or protruding. In addition, people with hunchback appear to be slouching and have noticeable rounding of the shoulders. Kyphosis can lead to excess pressure on the spine, causing pain. It may also cause breathing difficulties due to pressure put on the lungs.

Kyphosis in elderly women is known as dowager’s hump.

Common causes of kyphosis

Kyphosis can affect people of any age. It rarely occurs in newborns because it’s usually caused by poor posture. Kyphosis caused by poor posture is called postural kyphosis.

Other potential causes of kyphosis include:

  • aging, especially if you have poor posture
  • muscle weakness in the upper back
  • Scheuermann’s disease, which occurs in children and has no known cause
  • arthritis or other bone degeneration diseases
  • osteoporosis, the loss of bone strength due to age
  • injury to the spine
  • slipped discs
  • scoliosis, or spinal curvature

The following conditions less commonly lead to kyphosis:

  • infection in the spine
  • birth defects, such as spina bifida
  • tumors
  • diseases of the endocrine system
  • diseases of the connective tissues
  • polio
  • Paget’s disease
  • muscular dystrophy

When to seek treatment for kyphosis

You should seek treatment if your kyphosis is accompanied by:

  • pain
  • breathing difficulties
  • fatigue

Much of our bodily movement depends on the health of the spine, including our:

  • flexibility
  • mobility
  • activity

Getting treatment to help correct the curvature of your spine may help you reduce the risk of complications later in life, including arthritis and back pain.

Treating kyphosis

Treatment for kyphosis will depend on its severity and underlying cause. Here are some of the more common causes and treatments:

  • Scheuermann’s disease: A child may receive physical therapy, braces, or corrective surgery.
  • Infection: Your doctor will probably prescribe antibiotics for you.
  • Tumors: Typically, tumors are only removed if there’s concern for spinal cord compression. If this is present, the surgeon may try to remove the tumor, but frequently this destabilizes the bone. In such cases, a spinal fusion is often also necessary.
  • Osteoporosis: It’s essential to treat bone deterioration to prevent kyphosis from worsening.
  • Poor posture: You will not need aggressive treatments.

The following treatments may help relieve the symptoms of kyphosis:

  • medication, to relieve pain, if necessary
  • physical therapy, to help build strength in the core and back muscles
  • yoga, to increase body awareness and build strength, flexibility, and range of motion
  • weight loss, to relieve excess burden on the spine
  • braces, especially in children and teens
  • surgery, in severe cases

Risks of untreated kyphosis

For most people, kyphosis does not cause serious health problems. This is dependent on the cause of the kyphosis. If kyphosis is caused by poor posture, you may suffer from pain and breathing difficulties. These will only get worse later in life.

You can treat kyphosis early by:

  • strengthening the muscles of the back
  • seeing a physical therapist

Your goal will be to improve your posture long-term to decrease pain and other symptoms.

Medically reviewed by Timothy Schmidt, MD on October 26, 2016Written by Amber Erickson Gabbey


9 possible conditions

This feature is for informational purposes only and should not be used to diagnose. Please consult a healthcare professional if you have health concerns.