Most cases of kyphosis don't require treatment.
Kyphosis caused by poor posture (postural kyphosis) can usually be corrected by improving your posture.
If a child has kyphosis as a result of abnormally shaped vertebrae (Scheuermann's kyphosis), treatment depends on factors such as:
- the person's age
- their sex
- the severity of the curve
- how flexible the curve is
The condition usually stops progressing once a child is older and has stopped growing.
Surgery is often required for children born with congenital kyphosis.
If you have mild to moderate kyphosis, it may be possible to control your symptoms using painkillers and exercise.
Painkillers and exercise
Over-the-counter painkillers, such as ibuprofen or paracetamol, can help relieve any back pain.
Regular exercise and a course of physiotherapy may be recommended to help strengthen the muscles in your back.
Back pain can also be helped by maintaining a healthy weight and activities which strengthen core muscles. For example, yoga, pilates or some martial arts.
Teenagers with mild to moderate kyphosis may need to wear a back brace. The brace is worn while the bones are still growing and prevents the curve getting worse.
Wearing a brace may feel restrictive at first. However, most people get used to them after a while. Modern braces are designed to be convenient, so it should still be possible to take part in a wide range of physical activities.
You'll need to wear the brace until the spine stops growing, which is usually around 14 or 15 years old.
Bracing isn't usually recommended for adults who have stopped growing because it won't correct the position of the spine.
Surgery can usually correct the appearance of the back and may help to relieve pain but it carries quite a high risk of complications.
Surgery is only recommended for more severe cases of kyphosis, where it's felt the potential benefits of surgery outweigh the risks.
Surgery for kyphosis would usually be recommended if:
- the curve of your spine is very pronounced
- the curve is causing persistent pain that can't be controlled with medication
- the curve is disrupting your body's other important functions, such as breathing and the nervous system
- without surgery it's likely that the structure of your spine would deteriorate further
A technique called spinal fusion is usually used to treat kyphosis. It involves joining together the vertebrae responsible for the curve of the spine.
During the operation, an incision is made in your back. The curve in your spine is straightened using metal rods, screws and hooks, and your spine is fused into place using bone grafts. Bone grafts usually use donated bone but it may taken from another place in your body, such as the pelvis.
The procedure takes four to eight hours and is carried out under general anaesthetic.
You may need to stay in hospital for up to a week after the operation, and you may have to wear a back brace for up to nine months to support your spine while it heals.
You should be able to return to school, college or work after four to six weeks, and 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 nerves that run through the spine, which could result in a paralysis with loss of bladder and bowel function
Before deciding whether to have spinal surgery, you should discuss the benefits and risks with the doctor in charge of your care.