If you were to look at a side view of a healthy spine through an X-ray, you’d see a gentle S shape with a slight curve near your neck and another one in your lower back. The upper and lower regions have a C-shaped bend, and the middle has a reversed C.
But kyphosis, a condition that forces your spine into a forward bend, dramatically increases or decreases your curves.
Dr. Patrick S. McNulty has diagnosed and treated many cases of kyphosis and helped patients regain their posture and mobility through conservative treatments like braces and physical therapy, and even surgery when necessary. If you notice any of the telltale signs of kyphosis, contact us at McNulty Spine in Las Vegas, Nevada, to schedule a consultation with Dr. McNulty, our award-winning, double board-certified leader in the field of orthopedic and spine surgery.
Before we dive into the symptoms of kyphosis, it’s important for you to understand exactly what happens to your spine when you have this condition.
Think of your back like doctors do, in three different sections. The top part, which includes your neck, is called the cervical spine, the middle part is the thoracic spine, and the lower region is your lumbar spine. In the sideways view we talked about, you should have a C-shaped curve (called lordosis) in the cervical and lumbar spine, and a backwards C (called kyphosis) in the thoracic spine.
If you have an illness, injury, or congenital problem that causes your mid-back spinal curve to exceed the normal range of curvature — 25-45 degrees — you have hyperkyphosis, although the medical community typically shortens this to simply kyphosis. If the problem is in the cervical or lumbar regions, it’s called lack of lordosis.
Not all cases of kyphosis are serious enough to cause significant health concerns. Kyphosis often occurs in adolescents and can be treated with a back brace to correct the posture and physical therapy to strengthen the supporting muscles.
But if your kyphosis or lack of lordosis causes pain or affects your mobility, it’s time to seek treatment. Here are some of the signs.
It probably doesn’t surprise you that kyphosis causes aches and pains. The abnormal curve is often the result of misshapen vertebrae — instead of rectangular, they may be triangular, so they don’t fit well together.
The wedge-shaped vertebrae push your spine forward and decrease the space in your spinal column causing pain, rigidity, and stiffness. This is especially true of Scheurmann’s kyphosis, which appears as a sharp, angular bend in the spine.
Postural kyphosis, most prevalent among teens, is a gentler curve that rounds the shoulders. It may look like the person is slouching, but is not tied to any severe structural abnormalities. If you asked a person with postural kyphosis to stand up straight, they could do it, unlike other types of kyphosis.
In addition to forward-sloped shoulders, kyphosis causes a definite hump in your back, which is illustrated in the book and movies: The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Although that depiction of Quasimodo was extreme, it serves as a visual example of kyphosis.
A misaligned spine calls upon your muscles, ligaments, and bones to shift into overdrive to perform simple tasks, so you end up tired, fatigued, and even sore.
Tight hamstrings — the muscles that run down the back of your thigh — can put undue pressure and force on your pelvis and may contribute to, or at least aggravate, kyphosis.
Some researchers also believe that the sensation of tight hamstring muscles may be a bit deceptive and that those suffering from kyphosis or lack of lordosis may actually be experiencing tight sciatic nerve, caused by a shortened spine, that presents as the same type of pain and discomfort when stretched, including weakness and tingling in your legs.
When you have kyphosis, the structural support in your back changes, and the muscles designed to help you stand and walk begin to atrophy and weaken. This makes it difficult to do the things many people take for granted, like standing or walking.
Although you can consciously change your stature with postural kyphosis, congenital and Scheurmann’s kyphosis make it impossible to stand up straight on your own. The forced slumping decreases the capacity of your chest cavity and can make it difficult to take full breaths.
If you’re experiencing any of these classic signs of kyphosis, don’t ignore them. Left untreated, the condition can lead to severe structural problems and increased pain. You can trust Dr. McNulty to help you stand straight and tall. To discuss your options, contact us by phone or online, today.