Older people are more susceptible to kyphosis. Osteoporosis is a risk factor, so it is no surprise that women are affected more frequently. This rounding tendency of the thoracic spine can be measured on a lateral x-ray of the spine in terms of degrees; 20 to 40°  is considered normal. The angle increases with age, and almost half of older people have an angle more than 40°.

Children can also get kyphosis-Scheuermann’s disease-during the rapidly growing years. Kyphosis occurs when the normally block-like vertebrae become wedge shaped, with the narrow part towards the front.

Causes of kyphosis include fractures, with or without osteoporosis, disc degeneration, cancer and cancer treatment. Tuberculosis of the bone used  to be a common cause of hunchbacks, but this is no longer a problem.

Kyphosis can produce breathing problems by putting pressure on the lungs, increase digestive problems such as GERD, or compress spinal nerves causing pain.

At the age of 89, I have a problem with kyphosis. At the age of 30, one of my thoracic vertebrae sustained a wedge compression fracture, probably from jumping off a wall or something similarly stupid.

I continually have to fight foreword slouching when I walk, and remind myself to stand up straight, and throw my shoulders back. My neck arthritis makes it difficult to look up when I walk.

I also do angle push-ups to strengthen my back muscles. I have a friend who has severe kyphosis, and recently had an orthopedic operation to correct it. I am hopeful that this operation will relieve his sense of shortness of breath and reduce his GERD.

Treatment includes taking vitamin D and calcium, or other medicines for osteoporosis. Smoking should be avoided, and alcohol limited. There are a number of exercises that are recommended, some of which I have mentioned.

Please refer to the following Mayo clinic article for more information.

—Dr. C.

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