Kyphosis is an abnormal curving of the spine that causes a hunched-over appearance. Kyphosis sometimes occurs alongside scoliosis, a disorder that causes a sideways curvature of the spine.

Risk Factors

Kyphosis can develop at any age. In adolescents, it may be diagnosed as Scheuermann’s disease, in which several vertebrae become wedged together. In adults, kyphosis can be caused by:

  • Arthritis
  • Cancerous tumors and cancer treatments
  • Chronic disorders, such as Paget’s disease
  • Genetic diseases, including Marfan syndrome, muscular dystrophy, neurofibromatosis, Prader-Willi Syndrome or spina bifida
  • Injury to the spine
  • Infectious diseases, such as tuberculosis or polio
  • Osteoporosis
  • Spondylolisthesis – when one vertebra slips in front of another


If the curve is mild, kyphosis may result in few issues. More severe kyphosis can be disfiguring. It may cause nerve problems, stiffness, chronic pain and difficulty breathing. It can even affect how your heart works.

The most common sign of kyphosis is a rounding of your upper back. Other symptoms include:

  • Back pain
  • Shortness of breath
  • Stiffness of the spine and lack of flexibility
  • Leg weakness, if the nerves in your spinal cord are being compressed


To diagnose kyphosis, your doctor will perform a physical exam and observe how you walk and move. You may be asked to bend in different directions to test your flexibility and to observe your spine more clearly. Your doctor may also test your reflexes, sensations and muscle strength.

Additional tests can confirm the condition:

  • MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) and CT (computed tomography) scans show your nerves and any abnormalities in your spinal cord.
  • Nerve tests indicate if your nerves are being pinched or irritated.
  • X-rays show the degree of curvature in your spine. A number of X-rays may be performed while you’re in different positions.

Treatment Options

Treatment options for kyphosis may include:

  • Lifestyle changes. Maintaining a healthy weight can help prevent pain and may relieve some symptoms.
  • Over-the-counter pain relievers. Acetaminophen (Tylenol), ibuprofen, (Advil, Motrin IB), naproxen (Aleve) or stronger prescription pain medication.
  • Calcium and vitamin D supplements. These drugs can slow the progression of kyphosis if you have a family history of osteoporosis.
  • Spinal brace. Your doctor may prescribe one for pain relief, although it will not correct the condition. Shoe inserts or orthotics may also reduce back pain if you have scoliosis.
  • Physical therapy and exercise.
  • Spinal fusion surgery. This procedure permanently connects two or more of the affected vertebrae, and may reduce the degree of curvature and alleviate pinched nerves. It’s usually reserved for severe cases.

Find Spine Care Near You

When you have degenerative disc disease, the Aurora Back and Spine Program makes it easier for you to get back to the things that matter most. With a single entry point and your own care coordinator, you’ll be connected to an integrated team of specialists all working together on your personalized treatment plan. Learn more about our program locations in eastern Wisconsin:

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