During the physical exam, your doctor will check your height and may ask you to bend forward from the waist while he or she views the spine from the side. With kyphosis, the rounding of the upper back may become more obvious in this position. Your doctor might also perform a neurological exam to check your reflexes and muscle strength.
Depending upon your signs and symptoms, you may need:
- X-rays. Plain X-rays are used to determine the degree of curvature and can detect deformities of the vertebrae, which helps identify the type of kyphosis.
- Computerized tomography (CT scan). If more detail is required, your doctor might order a CT scan — which takes X-ray images from many different angles and then combines them to form cross-sectional images of internal structures.
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). If your doctor suspects a tumor or infection, he or she may request an MRI of your spine. MRI uses radio waves and a very strong magnet to produce detailed images of both bone and soft tissues.
If you are experiencing any numbness or muscle weakness, your doctor may recommend several tests that can determine how well nerve impulses are traveling between your spinal cord and your extremities.
Diagnosis at Mayo Clinic
Mayo Clinic's EOS imaging systems can produce detailed 3-D X-ray images of the spine, similar to those of CT scans but at a much lower dose of radiation. This is particularly important for children because the damaging effects of X-ray radiation may accumulate with each exposure over the length of their lives.
Another cutting-edge imaging technique available at Mayo Clinic involves 3-D printing, which can create a physical model of the deformed area of spine so that doctors can better plan the sometimes complex surgeries needed for repair; for instance, for tumor surgery or congenital deformities.
Kyphosis treatment depends on the cause of the condition and the signs and symptoms that are present.
Your doctor may suggest:
- Pain relievers. If over-the-counter medicines — such as acetaminophen (Tylenol, others), ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB, others) or naproxen (Aleve) — aren't enough, stronger pain medications are available by prescription.
- Osteoporosis drugs. In many older people, kyphosis is the first clue that they have osteoporosis. Bone-strengthening drugs may help prevent additional spinal fractures that would cause your kyphosis to worsen.
Some types of kyphosis can be helped by:
- Exercises. Stretching exercises can improve spinal flexibility and relieve back pain. Exercises that strengthen the abdominal muscles may help improve posture.
- Bracing. Children who have Scheuermann's disease may be able to stop the progression of kyphosis by wearing a body brace while their bones are still growing.
- Healthy lifestyle. Maintaining a healthy body weight and regular physical activity will help prevent back pain and relieve back symptoms from kyphosis.
- Maintaining good bone density. Proper diet with calcium and vitamin D and screening for low bone density, particularly if there is a family history of osteoporosis or history of previous fracture, may help older adults avoid weak bones, compression fractures and subsequent kyphosis.
Surgical and other procedures
If the kyphosis curve is very severe or if the curve is pinching the spinal cord or nerve roots, your doctor might suggest surgery to reduce the degree of curvature.
The most common procedure, called spinal fusion, connects two or more of the affected vertebrae permanently. Surgeons insert pieces of bone between the vertebrae and then fasten the vertebrae together with metal rods and screws until the spine heals together in a corrected position.
Explore Mayo Clinic studies testing new treatments, interventions and tests as a means to prevent, detect, treat or manage this disease.
Preparing for your appointment
If you or your child has signs or symptoms common to kyphosis, make an appointment with your family doctor. He or she may refer you to a doctor who specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of spine disorders.
What you can do
Before your appointment, you may want to write a list of answers to the following questions:
- When did you first notice the symptoms?
- Did any back injuries happen around the same time?
- Have any close biological relatives had similar signs and symptoms or been diagnosed with a spine disorder?
- What medications and supplements are taken regularly?
What to expect from your doctor
Your doctor may ask some of the following questions:
- Is there any pain? If so, where exactly does it hurt?
- Do symptoms include fever, chills or unexplained weight loss?
- Do symptoms include weakness, numbness, difficulty walking, or changes in bladder or bowel habits?
- Do symptoms include fatigue or shortness of breath?