Kyphotic Curvature

By Ehren Allen, DPT/Certified Orthopedic Manual Therapist

What is a Kyphotic Curve?

Kyphotic curvature is the name for a forward curvature of the spine.  Kyphotic curvature is normal in the thoracic spine or upper back.  The spine can be divided into several sections.

Spine Anatomy by JOI Rehab


These sections include:

  • Cervical Spine (Neck)
  • Thoracic Spine (upper back, where the ribs attach)
  • Lumbar Spine (low back)
  • Sacral and coccygeal spine (base of the spine)

The thoracic spine and the sacral spine have a forward curvature (kyphotic).  The cervical and lumbar spines have a backward or sway curvature (lordotic).   These curvatures allow for proper balance or weight through the spine.  They also allow for movement and erect posture in the upright position.


What is Kyphosis?

Kyphosis is a condition where the forward curvature of the spine becomes increased abnormally.  It is also referred to as “hunchback”.  Kyphosis can have several causes.  These include:

  • Osteoporosis – a disease where bones lose density
  • Poor posture
  • Genetics
  • Degenerative Disk Disease
Osteoporosis Stages

Osteoporosis stages. close-up of human bones with different density. bone disease. aging process.

Typically with Kyphosis, the large front part of the vertebrae changes shape. This is called the body of the vertebrae.  The body of the vertebrae supports the weight and structure of the body.

If the bone in the vertebrae begins to break down, it can become wedge-shaped.  This changes the position of the spine and leads to increase forward curvature.


Does Kyphosis Hurt?

Kyphosis can cause pain.  If the excess curvature is due to bone thinning, it is possible to fracture the large front part of a vertebral bone.  This is typically called a compression fracture or a wedge fracture.  If there is less bone density, a fall or a forceful movement can lead to a fracture.  Compression fractures in the spine can be very painful.

The excessive curvature with Kyphosis can place abnormal stress on muscles and tendons in the back.  The stress can lead to muscle pain and joint pain in the spine.  When there is excessive forward curvature of the upper back, there is usually excessive backward curvature in the neck.  This is necessary to compensate for the kyphosis to allow the head to remain upright.  The extra backward curvature in the neck can cause neck pain is some people.


Is Kyphosis Dangerous?

Kyphosis can be uncomfortable and even painful at times.  But in severe cases, the spinal curvature can affect other bodily functions.   Kyphosis in the upper back can limit lung expansion with breathing.  If the spine curves too far in the upper back,  the ribs cannot rise with respiration.  The lungs can become compressed.  This can limit the volume of air intake.


Is There a Cure For Kyphosis?

To treat Kyphosis, you must identify the reason.  If posture is the problem, strength and stretching exercises may help to slow the progression.

Genetic predisposition to Kyphosis may require bracing during adolescents.  Physical therapy can be helpful to slow the progression and manage symptoms.

If the problem is bone thinning from Osteoporosis, it is vital to treat bone disease with the appropriate medication and nutrition.  There are several medication options available and Calcium with Vitamin D is a common supplement prescribed.  If a fracture occurs in the spine, surgery may be needed.  A kyphoplasty is an option that some surgeons choose to correct a vertebral compression fracture.

To schedule physical therapy at one of the 12 JOI Rehab Centers, please call 904-858-7045.

Related Articles: Robotic Spine Surgery at JOI, Osteoarthritis, and What is Rheumatoid Arthritis?

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