Kyphosis in the Elderly

Kyphosis in the ElderlyKyphosis is defined as a rounding of your upper back that results in a hunchbacked appearance. This disorder refers to people with exaggerated rounding of their back who have the inability to straighten their back completely. Some rounding as you grow older is completely normal, but if the rounding impairs your ability to stand up completely straight, then you may have kyphosis. This disorder is common in elderly people, especially women, because it can be caused by age related bone and joint disorders such as osteoporosis and degenerative disc disease. If you or someone you love has a rounded spine, then consider talking to a doctor in order to find the proper cause and treatment of the disorder.


Kyphosis in the elderly can be caused by a wide variety of disorders. One of the most common causes of kyphosis is osteoporosis. This disease is a bone thinning disease that can cause your spinal vertebra to compress together and fracture. Overtime, you could begin to develop a hunchback if numerous vertebras are affected. Another common cause of kyphosis is degenerative disc disease. This disease causes the discs in between your vertebra to shrink, which can cause your spine to become deformed. Cancer and certain types of cancer treatments can also cause your discs to degenerate, which in turn can cause kyphosis. Other causes of kyphosis include rare birth defects and Scheuermann’s disease. Both of these latter causes are evident during childhood.

People who slouch often can also develop a type of kyphosis known as postural kyphosis. This type can also affect the elderly if they have had poor posture throughout their lives. Postural kyphosis does not involve any medical deformities, and can be fixed by simply adjusting your posture.

Signs and Symptoms

The main sign of kyphosis is the actual hunchback. People who suffer from kyphosis often know about their problem because the hunchback is very visible. Other symptoms of severe cases of kyphosis include back pain and stiffness in the back, neck and upper arms. If you have a very mild case of kyphosis, then you may not experience any symptoms. Often, only severe cases produce symptoms.

In very severe cases, breathing problems can occur due to your rib cage compressing on your lungs. People with very severe kyphosis must be seen by a doctor regularly in order to ensure that their spine and ribs are not affecting their lungs, heart, and other vital organs.


In order to get treatment for kyphosis, you must first visit a doctor and get a diagnosis. To diagnose you properly, a doctor will ask you a variety of questions including when did your symptoms appear, have you had any back pain, is there a family history of kyphosis, and what medications you are taking. During your appointment, your doctor will examine your spine and determine what all of your symptoms are. To properly diagnose you with kyphosis, your doctor may order x-rays, a CT scan, or an MRI of your spine. This will show the severity of the curve in your spine and determine what the proper treatment is for your disorder. Nerve tests may also be performed if you have been feeling numbness or any kind of muscle weakness. These tests can help determine if you have any nerve damage from your spinal cord being curved. If your kyphosis is very severe, then lung tests might also be necessary to determine your lung function.

Once your doctor has determined a diagnosis of kyphosis, they will suggest a proper treatment plan for you. Most patients with kyphosis will receive pain medication and drugs to help the root cause of their disorder. For example, if their kyphosis is a direct effect of osteoporosis, then the doctor will begin to treat the osteoporosis in order to stop the progression of the kyphosis. Therapy and rehabilitation may also be part of your treatment plan. Various exercises from physical therapists can help you gain flexibility and movement in your spine. By completing the exercises, you may also notice that your posture improves and your pain levels decrease. Braces are also available for people with kyphosis. Spinal braces can help align your spine and keep it in proper position so that your kyphosis will not get worse.

For severe cases of kyphosis, surgery is an option. The most common surgical procedure that is performed is a spinal fusion. During this surgery, a neurosurgeon will insert bone between each of the vertebra and will fuse the spinal vertebra together with metal hardware. Spinal fusions come with a high risk for complications, and are only performed in patients whose kyphosis is so severe that it causes pain and difficulty breathing.


Kyphosis is a common disorder in the elderly population that mostly affects women. Both men and women can develop kyphosis; however it is most common in women due to women having a higher risk for osteoporosis. Often, kyphosis is one of the first signs of osteoporosis in the elderly. For this reason, it is very important to tell your doctor about any symptoms of kyphosis you may be experiencing. Patients who have taken corticosteroids for prolonged periods of time throughout their life also have a greater risk of developing kyphosis as they age. If you have developed kyphosis, then talk with your doctor about your treatment options. While you may not be able to completely alleviate your hunchback, you may be able to regain spinal flexibility and strength through exercises with a physical therapist. If you are suffering from kyphosis, then you may also be suffering from body image issues. Many people with kyphosis do not like their appearance and try to hide their poor posture. Just remember, that many elderly people suffer from the same disorder, and that you are not alone. If you are suffering from body image issues, then tell your doctor and they can give you ideas on how to cope with your disorder. Kyphosis is a common disorder that is not life threatening, and that can be easily treated in order to slow or halt its progression. Talk to your doctor about possible treatment options, and what will be the right treatment option for your lifestyle.