Hyperkyphosis

Hyperkyphosis (often just called kyphosis) is a curvature of the spine that occurs in the upper back, resulting in a hunched or stooped appearance.

It affects approximately 8% of the general population, and while it is most common in older people, it can affect men and women of all ages.

Watch our video to learn everything you need to know about hyperkyphosis:

Kyphosis is sometimes known as 'dowager's hump', particularly if the patient is getting on in years. 'Hunchback' is a somewhat derogatory term for a person with kyphosis.

 

Hyperkyphosis vs Scoliosis: What's the Difference?

Hyperkyphosis and scoliosis are two different curvatures of the spine.

We treat both conditions here at the Scoliosis SOS Clinic, and they can occur together (see kyphoscoliosis). But they're not the same thing.

Kyphosis vs scoliosis

The difference lies in the direction of the curvature:

  • Hyperkyphosis: Causes the upper* region of the spine to curve forwards, making the patient's upper back look unusually rounded or hunched.

  • Scoliosis: Causes the spine to curve sideways, forming a 'C' or 'S' shape.

*Excessive forward curvature of the lower spine is known as hyperlordosis. Read our Curvatures of the Spine guide for more information.

 

How Does Hyperkyphosis Affect the Body?

Kyphosis patients can usually be recognised by their visibly hunched backs, but this is just one of the many ways in which hyperkyphosis can affect one's body.

Kyphosis patients

Other symptoms of kyphosis include:

  • Back pain
  • Stiffness and discomfort
  • Reduced mobility / flexibility
  • Fatigue
  • Poor body image

But that's not all. A severe kyphotic spinal curve can even interfere with the body's most fundamental inner workings, such as the respiratory and digestive systems.

> How does hyperkyphosis affect breathing?

If hyperkyphosis is not treated and the spinal curve continues to get worse over time, there is a risk that it may eventually begin to adversely affect the patient's ability to breathe. This happens because especially severe spinal deformities inevitably end up warping other parts of the skeleton, including the rib cage; this leaves the lungs with less room to inflate, resulting in compromised breathing.

> How does hyperkyphosis affect the digestive system?

Severe hyperkyphosis can also impact on the patient's ability to digest food normally. Again, this is due to the knock-on effect that a pronounced spinal curve can have on other parts of the body. In the case of the digestive system, problems may arise because the patient's internal organs are being squashed together, potentially obstructing the passage of food through the intestines. Acid reflux is also fairly common among people with advanced hyperkyphosis.

> How does hyperkyphosis affect the nervous system?

In some cases, the distortion of the body due to hyperkyphosis can end up impinging on a nerve. Depending on where in the body this happens, nerve compression can lead to:

  • Persistent aches/pains
  • Numbness or tingling sensations
  • Certain body parts feeling weak
  • Loss of bladder/bowel control

The good news is that all of these consequences are relatively rare and do not arise in the majority of mild to moderate cases of hyperkyphosis.

 

What Causes Hyperkyphosis?

Kyphosis can develop for a number of different reasons, and some forms of this condition are more preventable than others.

Here are some of the most common causes of hyperkyphosis (and who they're most likely to affect):

  • Bad Posture - If you persistently slouch forward or lean back when seated, you may notice that your spine starts to develop a visible curvature over time. Desk workers are particularly prone to the sort of postural problems that can lead to hyperkyphosis.

  • Scheuermann's Disease - Scheuermann's disease typically occurs during the growth spurt that accompanies puberty. If you have this condition, it means that your vertebrae (the bones that make up your spine) develop into a wedge shape, creating a forward spinal curve. Learn more about Scheuermann's disease here.

  • Congenital Issues - While rare, it is sometimes the case that a baby's spine will develop incorrectly in the womb, and this can mean that hyperkyphosis is present from birth. This is called congenital kyphosis, and when it does occur, it usually begins within the first 6-8 weeks of embyronic development.

  • Osteoporosis - Human beings (especially women) often lose bone density as they get older, a condition known as osteoporosis. The resulting bone weakness can lead to a range of different problems, including curvature of the spine. Learn more about osteoporosis here.

  • Spinal Injury - Certain accidents and injuries can impact the spine, resulting in hyperkyphosis in some cases.

 

How to Prevent Hyperkyphosis

While hyperkyphosis can be treated, it is often impossible to prevent it from developing altogether.

Scheuermann's kyphosis and congenital kyphosis cannot be prevented with lifestyle changes. Good posture will reduce your risk of developing postural kyphosis, and a healthy diet and weight-bearing exercises can help to prevent kyphosis from developing as a result of osteoporosis.

If you want to prevent hyperkyphosis, here's what we recommend:

  • Avoid rounding your shoulders and make an effort to observe your posture when sitting, walking or standing.

  • Perform exercises which increase bone mass - rebounding on a trampoline is very effective for this, and is even used by astronauts preparing for space travel.

  • Eat a diet rich in Calcium and Vitamin D, such as spinach, fatty fish and fortified foods.

  • Perform exercises to improve your posture at home, especially if you work in a job that requires you to sit for long periods of time or lift heavy objects. Here are some exercises to get you started.

  • Seek physical therapy from a qualified professional who will be able to identify the cause of your poor posture.

 

Hyperkyphosis Treatment

As with scoliosis, there are a number of different hyperkyphosis treatment methods in use, including both surgical and non-surgical options.

Congenital Kyphosis Treatment

The most prevalent treatment methods are:

  • Bracing - During adolescence, bracing may be required to stunt the progression of the patient's kyphosis in moderate to severe cases. Bracing aims to ensure that the degree of the curvature does not develop any further than it already has. The patient may be required to continue wearing the brace until their spine stops growing at around 16 years of age. Learn more about how a hyperkyphosis brace works here.

  • Pain Management - As is the case for many health problems, pain management is often a central part of hyperkyphosis treatment. Painkillers such as ibuprofen or paracetamol can help to relieve the aches and pains that derive from having a curvature of the spine. If the patient is in a lot of pain, stronger pain relief medications may be prescribed.

  • Physical Therapy - Though it does require some work on the patient’s part, physiotherapy is a great way to treat hyperkyphosis. Physical therapy programmes such as our own ScolioGold method can straighten the back, reduce pain, and improve the patient's quality of life in general - see before and after photos here.

  • Surgery - If the curvature becomes so severe that the patient is having difficulty going about their day, surgery may be recommended. Spinal fusion is the standard surgical procedure for hyperkyphosis - this involves fusing the vertebrae together to correct the spine's curvature. Method rods, screws, hooks and bone grafts are used during the operation to fuse the bones together. The operation takes 4-8 hours, and a back brace may need to be worn for up to 9 months while your spine heals.

 

Matthew from Exeter: A Kyphosis Case Study

Matthew Ellison came to the Scoliosis SOS Clinic in 2018. Our treatment course helped to reduce his back pain, and he actually grew by 3.8cm during his time here!

Read Matthew's story in full here. Matthew is just one of the many hyperkyphosis patients we've helped - if you'd like to find out more about our physical therapy courses, please give us a call on 0207 488 4428.

Learn Some Hyperkyphosis Exercises   Book Your Initial Consultation

A curvature of the spine (such as scoliosis or hyperkyphosis) can affect anyone, regardless of their age, sex or general fitness. The effect that these conditions have on the patient's day-to-day life can vary massively between one case and the next, so there isn't one single treatment that's universally effective.

The best form of treatment for any given patient depends on how severe their spinal curve is, along with some other variables. If the angle of the curve progresses past the threshold of 40-50 degrees, surgery is often recommended; however, this certainly isn't the only method used to treat scoliosis and other curvatures of the spine.

Here is an overview of the main treatment options that are available for individuals with curved spines:

 

Bracing

If the patient is a child or teenager, a brace may be used to prevent the spinal curvature from progressing as the body grows. Braces commonly have to be worn for 23 hours a day, and can only be taken off to bathe/shower. The brace is worn until the patient has finished growing. Bracing does not treat the spinal curve as such; it is simply used to prevent the patient's condition from getting any worse. 

Back braces are usually made from rigid plastic, so they aren't very flexible (although some more comfortable designs have been introduced in recent years).

Further reading: What's it like wearing a brace?

 

Surgery

If the patient's spinal curve is severe enough, spinal fusion surgery is often recommended. This procedure is performed under general anaesthetic, and it involves anchoring a series of rods to the patient's spine using tiny hooks and screws. These rods reduce the angle of patient's spinal curve as well as serving as a splint to keep it in place. A bone graft is then applied to the spine and eventually fuses to it, preventing the spinal curve from progressing any further. The rods are only a temporary measure, holding the spine together until the fusion process has finished; however, these rods are not usually removed, as to do so would require another large, potentially risky surgical procedure. 

Spinal fusion surgery is usually followed by a lengthy recovery period, during which some pain, discomfort and a loss of mobility are to be expected.

Further reading: What to expect from surgery

 

Physical Therapy

Many people look to physical therapy as an alternative to spinal fusion surgery, and there is increasing evidence that exercise-based programmes can be very effective for treating curvatures of the spine. Here at the Scoliosis SOS Clinic, we use our own ScolioGold therapy programme to help patients who are seeking an effective, low-risk treatment method for their spinal condition. 

The ScolioGold method is a combination of non-surgical spinal techniques from around the world, specifically chosen to ensure that all aspects of each patient's condition are properly addressed. By using our own unique combination of methods, we're able to offer an unrivalled treatment success that is not available anywhere else.

To book an initial consultation, or to find out more about our treatment methods, please get in touch with the Scoliosis SOS Clinic today!

More Information: Curvatures of the Spine >

Nobody has a perfectly straight backbone. It is normal to have slight sagittal spinal curvature that forms a sort of gentle 'S' shape, as shown here:

Normal curvature of the spine

A 'normal' spine as viewed from the side, front and back

In this blog post, we will look at what constitutes a 'normal' curvature of the spine and what is classed as an abnormal / excessive curvature. 

Normal Curvature of the Spine

A normal curvature of the spine appears in the neck and lower back areas of the spine. When viewed from the side, these soft curves bend forward at the neck (cervical) section and outwards in the lower half (lumbar) of the spine. These normal curvatures of the spine help to distribute bodily stress more evenly during rest and movement.

These curves balance each other out, so your head should be aligned with your hips when standing up straight. This position works to minimise the effect of gravity and allows you to have good posture when moving around.

A healthy spine with a normal curvature should still be centred on the pelvis, and more or less straight when viewed from behind. While most people have a slight sideways curve, the spine should not curve more than 10 degrees to the left or right. 

Abnormal Curvatures of the Spine

An abnormal curvature of the spine can take a number of different forms, including:

  • Scoliosis - Scoliosis is an excessive curvature of the spine to the left or right (or both). Common symptoms of scoliosis include uneven shoulder blades, hips and rib humps.

  • Hyperlordosis - Hyperlordosis is an excessive forward curvature of the lower spine, making it appear that the patient's stomach and rear are sticking out.

  • Hyperkyphosis - Hyperkyphosis is an excessive forward curvature of the upper spine, often resulting in a 'hunchback' appearance.

If you think you may be experiencing any of these disorders, it is important to go and see a GP before the curvature progresses any further. Unfortunately, in most cases, the condition will not improve by itself and will require treatment.

Flat Back Syndrome

It is also possible to have an abnormally small sagittal curvature of the spine. Flat back syndrome refers to a straightening of the spinal cord, usually in the thoracic (upper) part of the spine, resulting in an overall imbalance.

The surgical methods used to treat scoliosis from the 1960s to the 1980s are often cited as the cause of this problem, but modern techniques mean that flat back syndrome is far less common nowadays. Other causes of flat back syndrome include degenerative disc disease, vertebral compression fractures, ankylosing spondylitis and post-laminectomy syndrome.

If you think you may have a spinal abnormality, the Scoliosis SOS Clinic is dedicated to treating these conditions through exercise-based physical therapy. Click here to find out more about our treatment method, or contact us now to arrange an initial consultation.

If you're not familiar with medical language (and the Greek/Latin words from which medical language is often constructed), it can sometimes be difficult to work out what people are talking about when they refer to different forms of scoliosis.

Levoconvex Scoliosis

As we've seen time and time again here on the Scoliosis SOS blog, there are numerous different terms and pieces of jargon used to describe curvatures of the spine, and one thing we aim to do in our blog posts is decode these terms and help everyone to understand the topic at hand.

Today, we'd like to take a look at levoconvex scoliosis.

 

What does 'levoconvex' mean?

Levoconvex scoliosis is a type of scoliosis where the spine curves to the left. It can develop on its own during adolescence (see idiopathic scoliosis), or it may occur as the result of another condition.

As previously explained in our Dextroscoliosis vs. Levoscoliosis article, the term levo- simply means 'left'. Levoscoliosis curves to the left, whereas dextroscoliosis curves to the right.

Dextroscoliosis vs Levoscoliosis

The term levoconvex scoliosis actually means more or less the same thing as levoscoliosis - it's just a slightly more specific way of saying it. Adding the word 'convex' merely clarifies that it's the outer (convex) edge of the curve that's on the left.

 

Convex vs. concave

Every curve has a convex side and a concave side. 'Convex' refers to the outside of the curve, and 'concave' to the inside.

Convex and Concave Scoliosis Curve

If a doctor describes your spinal curve as 'levoconvex', it means that the convex side of the curve is on the left. In other words, the spine curves to the left.

Scoliosis SOS provide non-surgical treatment courses for scoliosis patients. Get in touch now to book an initial consultation - our ScolioGold treatment method is very effective at reducing curvature and improving quality of life.

Case Study: Kayla, aged 15

Kayla was diagnosed with scoliosis and wasn't entirely sure what it was at first. When the doctors showed her the x-rays of her spine, she was quite upset. Most of the doctors that she visited recommended surgery, physiotherapy or a brace - none of them recommended exercise-based treatment. After coming to the Scoliosis SOS, Kayal really feels that this was the best option for her! 

See our full interview with Kayla here:

Contact Scoliosis SOS > Our Treatment Courses >

Scoliosis prevention

If you've been reading about scoliosis - perhaps here on the Scoliosis SOS blog, perhaps elsewhere - you may now find yourself wondering if there's a way to prevent your own spine from curving; anything you can do to reduce your own chance of developing this condition and the many symptoms that tend to accompany it.

That's the question we'd like to address today: is it possible to prevent scoliosis?

No, scoliosis cannot generally be prevented...

It is not currently possible to prevent the onset of scoliosis. Most cases of scoliosis (around 80%) are idiopathic, which means that the cause is not known. Idiopathic scoliosis usually develops during puberty, so if your teenage or pre-teen child has recently been diagnosed with scoliosis, there's a good chance it's idiopathic. Since the cause of the curvature is unknown in these cases, it cannot be anticipated and no preventative action can be taken.

Scoliosis can also occur as a symptom of numerous other conditions, including:

Some of these underlying conditions can sometimes be prevented - for instance, exercise and a diet rich in vitamin D and calcium can help to reduce the risk of developing osteoporosis - but others are passed on genetically, making it difficult to prevent these conditions and the spinal curvatures that they often cause.

If you're researching the subject online, you may come across some common myths related to scoliosis prevention. One particularly persistent myth is that bad posture can cause scoliosis. We debunked this myth in a previous blog post; although bad posture can adversely affect your overall health in a number of ways, it cannot lead to a sideways curvature of the spine. Likewise, carrying a heavy backpack has never been clinically proven to cause scoliosis, yet this is another commonly-quoted myth.

So just to be clear: scoliosis cannot be prevented by sitting up straight or carrying fewer books!

...but it can be treated!

Though there is no effective way to prevent scoliosis entirely, it is possible to slow, halt, and even reverse the progression of the curvature before it starts to cause other health issues. Bracing, for instance, is a method that doctors frequently use to halt the progression of scoliosis in young people who are still growing.

Physical therapy is also a proven method of slowing the progression of scoliosis. Treatment regimes such as our own ScolioGold method work to retrain the muscles in your back through a diverse course of stretches and techniques to help improve flexibility and strength in the back. Of course, surgery is another commonly-used scoliosis treatment method, but many scoliosis sufferers would understandably prefer to avoid this route!

To find out how the Scoliosis SOS Clinic can help with your scoliosis symptoms, please contact us today to arrange a consultation.