Most cases of kyphosis don't require treatment.
Kyphosis that's caused by bad posture (postural kyphosis) can normally be corrected by improving your posture.
And kyphosis that's caused by abnormally shaped vertebrae (Scheuermann's kyphosis) will usually improve once you're fully grown.
Mild to moderate kyphosis
Over-the-counter painkillers such as ibuprofen or paracetamol can also help relieve symptoms such as back pain.
Regular exercise and a course of physiotherapy may also be advised to help strengthen the muscles in your back.
Teenagers with mild to moderate kyphosis may have to wear a back brace (a piece of equipment that supports your back). A brace will stop the curve from getting worse, and it's worn while the bones are still growing.
You'll probably find wearing a brace restrictive at first, but most people get used to them with time. Modern braces are designed to be as convenient as possible, so you should be able to still take part in a wide range of physical activities.
The brace will have to be worn until you're fully grown, which is usually around age 16 for girls and 18 for boys.
(Bracing isn't usually recommended for adults who have stopped growing as it won't correct the position of the spine).
Surgery can successfully correct the appearance of the back and relieve symptoms of pain. However, it carries quite a high risk of complication. This means that surgery would only be recommended in more severe cases of kyphosis. And only if it were felt that the potential benefits of surgery outweighed the risks.
Surgery would normally be recommended if:
- the curve of the spine is very large (more than 70 degrees)
- the curve is causing persistent pain that can't be controlled with medication
- the curve is disrupting other important functions of the body, such as breathing and the nervous system
- without surgery it's likely that the structure of the spine would become even more deformed
Surgery is also normally recommended for babies who are born with congenital kyphosis.
A technique called spinal fusion is usually used to treat kyphosis. This involves joining together the vertebrae that are responsible for the curve of the spine.
Spinal fusion is carried out under general anaesthetic (you're asleep throughout the procedure). An opening is made in your back, the curve in your spine is straightened using metal rods and hooks, and the spine is fused into place using bone grafts (a sample of bone taken from another place in your body – usually the pelvis). This surgery takes between four and eight hours.
You'll need to stay in hospital for around two weeks following the operation. Normally, you'll have to wear a cast or back brace for up to nine months. This is to support your spine while it heals.
You should be able to return to school, college or work after four to six weeks, then be able to play sports about a year after surgery.
Complications of spinal fusion surgery include:
- post-operative infection
- excessive bleeding at the site of the surgery
- accidental damage to the discs of the back
- accidental damage to the nerves that run through the spine, which could then affect some of the functions of the body such as bladder control (urinary incontinence)
You should discuss the benefits and risks associated with spinal surgery with the doctor in charge of your care.