Kyphosis is a general term referring to a part of the spine that curves out away from the back of your body. Your neck and lower back curve in, this is called lordosis. Your pelvis and thoracic spine or mid back curve out, and this is a kyphotic curve. When the elderly, particularly women, develop osteoporosis, they can suffer from compression fractures of the thoracic vertebrae causing hyperkyphosis, which is commonly just called kyphosis.
Kyphosis has a well-recognized appearance. Think of the little old lady, hunched over her shopping cart but then she cannot straighten up fully. That is kyphosis, often caused by osteoporotic vertebral compression fractures. What does all that mean? The osteoporosis weakens your bones, including the vertebrae. The vertebral bodies may collapse, making the inner part of your spine into smaller wedge shapes. This causes the hunchback curve of kyphosis.
Sometimes there is not pain with this condition, but often it can be extremely painful and debilitating and may require surgery. On of the simplest, least invasive procedures is the balloon kyphoplasty. Basically, the surgeon stick a straw in the area that has collapsed, blows up a little balloon, and fills it with special cement. This sort of re-inflates that vertebra, taking pressure off the nerves and helping to reverse the severe kyphotic curve. It is sometimes an outpatient procedure, and once the person wakes up they are usually stunned to find their pain is gone.
Balloon kyphoplasty isn’t for everyone; there are criteria that must be met to determine if you are a candidate. But if you are a candidate, this surgery tends to go very well. There are also kyphoplasties done without the balloon, and sometimes they need instrumentation due to the level of damage and may do a fusion. Best-case scenario is diagnosing osteoporosis early so it can be aggressively treated and prevent thoracic vertebral fractures altogether.
Treating the osteoporosis with the addition of physical therapy to help hold the spine in place can be of great help prior to vertebral compression fractures.
Kyphosis is common in movies and books and even on TV.
But it doesn’t have to be. Be screened for osteoporosis, make sure you have an adequate intake of calcium and vitamin D along with trace minerals, and do core strengthening and weight bearing exercise to keep your back in place and your bones strong.
The National Osteoporosis Foundation
Medline Plus: Kyphosis
Spine Universe: Kyphosis