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​Kyphosis (Dowager Hump or Hunch Back)

Kyphosis, also known as hunchback, is an excessive outward curvature of the spine.

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What Is Kyphosis?

Kyphosis is a spinal deformity characterized by a rounding of the back. While some rounding of the back is normal, the kyphosis curve refers to exaggerated rounding of more than 50 degrees. This condition is also referred to as a dowager hump, round back (postural kyphosis), or hunch back. Patients may develop kyphosis as a congenital disease or as a result of:

  • Developmental problems
  • Bad posture
  • Osteoporosis
  • Spinal trauma
  • Spinal fracture
  • Arthritis

Kyphosis can affect both children and adults and can start at any age.

At UPMC, we treat kyphosis with a combination of bracing and medication. In children and adolescents, the sooner the treatment begins, the more effective it will be in stopping the deformity. For severe cases, more aggressive treatment is required. Spinal fusion can be an effective treatment to reduce the degree of the curvature.

Kyphosis Symptoms and Diagnosis

Most cases of kyphosis can be diagnosed during a physical exam. The doctor will ask the patient about his or her symptoms and medical history, and check for abnormal curve in the spine, rounded shoulders, and a hump on the back.

Kyphosis symptoms

Symptoms may include:

  • Excess curve or hump in the back
  • Back pain
  • Fatigue in back and legs
  • Stiffness in back
  • Breathing difficulty may occur in some cases

Kyphosis diagnosis

The doctor may order an x-ray of the spine to confirm a diagnosis of kyphosis. A pulmonary function test may also be ordered to measure how well the patient is able to breath, since some severe cases of kyphosis can impair breathing.

Kyphosis Treatment

Non-surgical kyphosis treatment

At UPMC, we typically treat kyphosis with a combination of pain medication and bracing. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) may be given for pain, as well as medicine to treat any underlying conditions, such as osteoporosis. Braces can help correct kyphosis or reduce discomfort.

Kyphosis surgery

Surgery is reserved for severe cases of kyphosis. Surgeons will straighten the spine by fusing the backbones (vertebrae) together. This is done using bone grafts from the pelvis, or with a metal rod inserted into the spine to straighten it.
If the kyphosis is caused by a compression fracture, it may be treated with special cement, which is injected into the affected vertebrae during procedures called vertebroplasty and kyphoplasty.