Kyphosis (Scheuermann's disease) is an abnormal curving of the spine that causes a humpback.
Some amount of kyphosis is common and begins in adolescence, affecting boys more often than girls. The cause is unknown, but kyphosis sometimes runs in families. The vertebrae curve forward on each other, usually in the upper back. As a result, the back develops a hump. Scoliosis also often develops in children with kyphosis (called kyphoscoliosis).
Kyphosis often causes no symptoms. Sometimes mild, persistent back pain develops. Kyphosis may be noticed only because it alters the body's appearance. The shoulders may appear rounded. The upper spine may appear more curved than normal, or a hump may be visible. Some people have an appearance similar to those with Marfan syndrome, in whom the limbs are much longer than the trunk.
Mild kyphosis that does not cause symptoms is sometimes detected only during a routine physical examination. A doctor confirms the diagnosis by taking x-rays of the spine, which show the curve and the deformity of the vertebrae.
Mild kyphosis can be treated by reducing weight-bearing stress and by avoiding strenuous activities. The spine may straighten slightly with treatment, although symptoms may not lessen. It is unclear whether treating mild kyphosis prevents the curve from worsening. When kyphosis is more severe, treatment most often consists of wearing a spinal brace or sleeping on a rigid bed. Treatment may lessen symptoms and prevent the curve from worsening. Rarely, despite treatment, kyphosis worsens to such an extent that surgery is needed to straighten the spine.
Last full review/revision February 2008 by Frank Pessler, MD, PhD; David D. Sherry, MD