The individual bones (vertebrae) that make up a healthy spine look like cylinders stacked in a column. Kyphosis occurs when the vertebrae in the upper back become more wedge-shaped. This deformity can be caused by a variety of problems, including:

  • Osteoporosis. This bone-thinning disorder can result in crushed vertebrae (compression fractures). Osteoporosis is most common in older adults, particularly women, and in people who have taken high doses of corticosteroids for long periods of time.
  • Disk degeneration. Soft, circular disks act as cushions between spinal vertebrae. With age, these disks dry out and shrink, which often worsens kyphosis.
  • Scheuermann's disease. Also called Scheuermann's kyphosis, this disease typically begins during the growth spurt that occurs before puberty. Boys are affected more often than are girls. The rounding of the back may worsen as the child finishes growing.
  • Birth defects. If a baby's spinal column doesn't develop properly in the womb, the spinal bones may not form properly, causing kyphosis.
  • Syndromes. Kyphosis in children can also be associated with certain syndromes, such as Marfan syndrome or Prader-Willi disease.
  • Cancer and cancer treatments. Cancer in the spine can weaken vertebrae and make them more prone to compression fractures, as can chemotherapy and radiation cancer treatments.

An increased curve in the upper spine also can be caused by slouching. Called postural kyphosis, this condition doesn't involve any deformities in the spine. It's most common in teenagers.

Jun. 05, 2014

You Are ... The Campaign for Mayo Clinic

Mayo Clinic is a not-for-profit organization. Make a difference today.