What is Kyphosis?

What is Kyphosis?

Kyphosis is a spinal condition that causes forward curvature of the vertebrae in the upper back area. Normal kyphosis in the upper back ranges between 10 to 50 degrees. Excessive kyphosis can cause the upper back to appear rounded, leading to a slouched appearance. The condition is sometimes called “round back” or a “hunchback.”

Excessive kyphosis is relatively common in up to one in 10 children in the U.S.

Kyphosis vs lordosis vs scoliosis

Kyphosis is only one type of spinal curvature. The curve of the spine can also curve inward causing arching of the lower back (lordosis) or curve out to the left or right (scoliosis). A normal spine has a certain amount of kyphosis in the upper back and lordosis in the lower back.

Types of Kyphosis


There are several types of kyphosis:

  • Postural kyphosis: spinal curvature results from poor posture or continuous slouching. This type of kyphosis can usually be corrected by improving your posture.
  • Scheuermann’s kyphosis: this type of kyphosis is developmental, meaning it appears during periods of bone growth. It is caused because of a structural deformity in the spine that causes wedging of the vertebrae.
  • Congenital kyphosis: this spinal curvature is caused by improper spine development in the womb.

Any form of kyphosis can be categorized as hyperkyphosis if curvature becomes extreme.

Signs & Symptoms of Hyperkyphosis


Mild cases of increased kyphosis will not usually cause noticeable symptoms. The main sign of hyperkyphosis is rounding of the shoulders and upper back.
Moderate or severe cases can also cause the following hyperkyphosis symptoms:

  • Back pain or stiffness
  • Shortness of breath
  • Head bends forward
  • Tingling legs
  • Tight hamstrings

What Causes Hyperkyphosis?


The causes of hyperkyphosis differ due to the type of hyperkyphosis present:

  • Postural kyphosis: spinal curvature is caused by poor posture or consistently carrying heavy objects on the back
  • Scheuermann’s kyphosis: this type of kyphosis is caused by vertebrae growing in a wedge shape rather than a rectangular shape, which leads to forward curvature of the spine
  • Congenital kyphosis: this spinal curvature is caused when vertebral bodies fail to segment or form in the womb

Hyperkyphosis Complications


Complications usually only occur in severe cases of kyphosis. These include:

  • Weakened back muscles
  • Shortness of breath
  • Body image problems
  • Back pain

Some complications of hyperkyphosis can be the result of nerves that run through the spine and spinal cord becoming pinched and requiring immediate medical attention:

  • Weakness or numbness in the extremities
  • Balance problems
  • Loss of bladder or bowel control

Prevention of Postural Hyperkyphosis


It is possible to prevent postural kyphosis by addressing the risk factors that lead to the condition. Taking the following steps will reduce your chances of developing spinal curvature:

  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Maintain good posture
  • Strengthen back and abdominal muscles
  • Carry heavy loads in backpacks or rolling bags rather than on the shoulders
Get Care

Trust NewYork-Presbyterian for Spinal Fracture Care

The spine specialists at NewYork-Presbyterian can identify kyphosis and work to determine the cause of spinal curvature. They can help you determine the best treatment option to manage your symptoms. Call today to make an appointment.