Most people have heard the term “hunchback,” though they would not necessarily relate it to the term “cervical kyphosis,” which is what the condition is technically called. Also sometimes referred to as “Dowager’s hump,” as it can be common in the elderly, it is a condition where there is an excessive outward curvature of the spine in the area of the upper back.
Cervical kyphosis can lead to chronic pain, numbness, tingling in the extremities, and may restrict your ability to look forward.
The most common causes of cervical kyphosis are subluxation, degenerative diseases, poor posture, a congenital abnormality, physical trauma or the effects of medical intervention. Less commonly, it may be due to a systemic infection or a spinal disease such as ankylosing spondylitis.
In diseases of the spine, such as degenerative disc disease, the intervertebral discs begin to wear down, and the constant pressure on the upper section of the vertebra due to having to support the head, especially in the presence of weak upper back muscles, causes the front part of the vertebral discs to gradually move closer to one another, causing the spine to bend forward. Even poor posture can lead to this condition, as slumping forward puts extra pressure on the upper vertebrae, weakening supporting muscles and wearing down the spinal discs.
A trauma such as an injury to the ligaments in the area of the cervical spine or a vertebral compression fracture can cause cervical kyphosis. Congenital defects such as spina bifida and osteogenesis imperfecta, a condition that causes the child to have extremely fragile bones, can also contribute to the disorder. One form of the condition, Scheuermann’s kyphosis, seems to run in families.
Surgical procedures that are used to treat other spinal problems, such as laminectomy and cervical spine fusion, can actually be a cause of cervical kyphosis. Removing the lamina to help relieve pressure on the spinal nerves can sometimes cause instability in the facet joints, making the spine tilt forward. In a spinal fusion, if the vertebrae are improperly aligned due to either the fusion itself or if the fusion fails to heal correctly, kyphosis may result.
Surgery for more severe cases may be indicated, which generally involves the insertion of rods and screws to help straighten the spine, or possibly a procedure called kyphoplasty, in which a balloon is inserted between the vertebrae and filled with a liquid that subsequently hardens in order to increase space between the vertebrae.
However, milder cases of cervical kyphosis can be helped and even prevented with any combination of chiropractic care, physical therapy to strengthen the muscles supporting the spine, pain relievers and use of a neck brace.
Chiropractic care can be very effective. In a study of 51 people with cervical kyphosis, all had a positive decrease in the severity of their condition, with the average being a 56 percent reduction in kyphosis after 10 visits to a chiropractor for spinal subluxation, as demonstrated by neck x-rays.
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