We all expect our bodies to change as we get older, but developing a hump is incredibly upsetting. It’s hard to ignore, and harder still to avoid thoughts of the Hunchback of Notre Dame. The disfiguring condition is an excessive curvature of the upper thoracic spine, and it’s called Thoracic Kyphosis.
In addition to changing the way that you look and throwing your head forward, thoracic kyphosis can lead to back pain, fatigue, and stiffness. The discomfort can travel all the way down your legs to your hamstrings, impacting your willingness to exercise and overall sense of wellbeing. It can be caused by many different things, but the most common cause is chronic poor posture that becomes a self-fulfilling cycle. The more you slouch, the more discomfort your feel in your spine, and the only comfortable position available to you is bending further forward.
In addition to bad posture, thoracic kyphosis can be the result of:
- Arthritis in the lower neck
- Congenital conditions such as Scheuermann’s Kyphosis, which leads to more significant curvature
- Muscle weakness
- Aging/degeneration of vertebrae in the neck or thoracic spine
- Medication that leads to tissue deposits on the spine
Unfortunately, most people seek treatment for thoracic kyphosis when there are few options for stopping its progress. The best solution is to find its cause and respond to it. In most cases this involves increasing physical activity, particularly back and core strengthening exercises and exercises that improve cardiovascular health. Physical therapy is often helpful, particularly if attention and exercises focus on improving posture.
Those whose work environments contribute to poor posture are strongly encouraged to make ergonomic improvements to their workstations, and a back brace can be particularly helpful to younger patients to prevent worsening of their condition. If patients are experiencing discomfort there are pain medications that can reduce inflammation.
In some cases spine surgery may be appropriate, but this is generally limited to severe conditions where the patient’s quality of life is expected to worsen without it, such as when the spinal cord is being compressed. This surgery would likely involve fusion of involved vertebrae.
If you believe that you are at risk for developing thoracic kyphosis, the most important step for you to take is to focus on your posture. The goal is to keep your head and spine upright, remembering that bending your head and neck forward puts significant pressure on your upper spine. Exercise that strengthens the muscles around the upper chest and neck can help reduce the risk of kyphosis, and so too can strength training exercises and weight bearing exercise that increases bone density. Speak with your physician about your risk for osteoporosis and make sure that your diet includes enough calcium and Vitamin D, or supplements that support bone health.
If you are experiencing any kind of neck or back pain, the sooner you seek a diagnosis the better. Putting off an appointment allows problems to get worse, so contact our spine surgery practice in New Jersey at the first sign of trouble.