Children's Hospital Colorado


What is kyphosis?

Kyphosis comes from the Greek word for "hunchbacked." This condition is characterized by a curvature of the spine that is best seen from the side. In exams, kyphosis is usually noted as a rounding of the upper back that results in poor posture.

There is a normal amount of kyphosis (curvature) found in every spine. Spines that have a kyphotic curve of greater than 50 degrees are considered abnormal.

Three general categories of kyphosis appear in children

  • Postural kyphosis is the most common form, and most people simply refer to it as slouching. It is more common in boys and most prevalent in the adolescent years. The curve in the spine is normally flexible and causes no pain to the child, nor does it cause problems when the child is an adult.
  • Scheuermann's kyphosis is caused by abnormalities on the growth centers of the vertebrae, where the front part of the spine doesn't grow as quickly as the back part of the spine, causing the vertebrae to become wedge-shaped. This results in the child having a hunchback appearance. In this type of kyphosis the curve will usually become noticeable in the teen years and will worsen as the patient ages. Some children may have pain with this type of kyphosis near the worst part of the curve.
  • Congenital kyphosis develops while a child is in utero. During fetal development, the bones of the spine may not form normally or some of the bones in the spine may be fused together. The child's curve may worsen as he or she ages and may require surgery.

Who gets kyphosis?

Kyphosis is generally more common in boys. Some children can develop kyphosis in the womb (called congenital kyphosis), however most cases develop during adolescence.

What are signs and symptoms of kyphosis?

Children with kyphosis will often appear to have a "hunchback" and poor posture. Some patients with this condition will experience some amount of back pain.

How will my child's doctor diagnose kyphosis?

Kyphosis is usually first discovered by a child's primary care doctor during a routine physical examination. Sometimes a parent or family member may notice the increasing rounding of a child's back and consider it poor posture.

If an increased kyphotic curve is noted and your child is sent to the Spine Program at Children's Hospital Colorado, a pediatric orthopedic specialist will do an evaluation and X-rays. X-rays of the spine will show the doctor the degree of the kyphotic curve and help determine if the curve is normal or abnormal and if there are any other abnormalities of the spine.

After examining your child's spine, we'll be able to determine if the curve is due to poor posture or if the curve is due to an abnormality in the vertebrae (known as congenital or Scheuermann's kyphosis).

How is kyphosis treated?

Treatment depends on the type of kyphosis a child has.

If the patient has postural kyphosis, treatment is usually conservative and involves working with the child to improve posture through physical therapy, stretching and core fitness activities.

Those with Scheuermann's kyphosis will often be treated conservatively as well with the same sort of exercises to enhance posture. In some cases, a back brace may be necessary to help support the spine. Surgery may be needed for larger curves or curves that show signs of continued progression.

In congenital kyphosis, surgery may be recommended to help maintain a more normal spine as the child grows.

Your child's orthopedic specialist at the Spine Program will determine the type of kyphosis and the appropriate treatment option.

Why choose the Spine Program at Children's Colorado?

The Spine Program at Children's Colorado evaluates and treats infants, children, adolescents and young adults with all types of spinal diseases, deformities and injuries, ranging from kyphosis to complex neuromuscular disease and trauma. Our spine team is among the most knowledgeable pediatric spine care teams in the country.

For the most basic to the most complex spinal conditions, our goal is to always provide the safest and most effective care, often beginning with non-surgical options. However, if surgery is the only option for your child, we offer innovative approaches from experienced surgeons who perform more than 200 pediatric spine procedures each year.

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