Kyphosis is a term used to describe a deviation in spinal alignment into flexion and can occur at all three spinal curves – cervical, thoracic, and lumbar. It is normal for the thoracic spine to be kyphotic between 20-50˚. Using the term kyphosis to indicate a condition or abnormality, refers to an excessive anterior concavity of the thoracic spine above the normal range. Thoracic kyphosis can be flexible, or postural, if a person can voluntarily correct their position. If a person can not completely correct the spinal position to within a normal range, the kyphosis is deemed fixed, or structural.
Who is Affected:
Thoracic kyphosis can affect people of all ages, for several reasons.
Congenital or caused by Scheuermann’s disease (both are structural deformities)
Both men and women:
Poor postural control and endurance can lead to sustained kyphotic positions and various shortened muscles (particularly through the front of the chest, neck and ribs); and weak, lengthened and inhibited posterior postural muscles. Quite often headaches can result, leading to reduced concentration and reduced productivity at work.
Age-related kyphotic pressure can contribute to degenerative changes in the spine.
20-40% of older adults are affected and it is often associated with impaired lower limb function; slower gait; impaired balance; increased postural sway; impaired respiratory function; and reduced endurance / increased fatigue. Such changes can subsequently lead to an increased falls risk; fracture risk; and reduced quality of life.
Addressing early signs and symptoms of increased kyphosis of the thoracic spine is important, especially when still in the flexible stage, as long-term effects can be avoided or reduced.
Various Treatment Techniques:
Soft tissue release of short structures
Muscular retraining of weak muscles - this is the most important phase of treatment and is recommended long-term, in order to reduce the risk of increasing or recurrence of associated symptoms, as well as minimising the risk of kyphosis becoming structural
Short term bracing (only recommended for short periods for pain management and postural prompting)
It is now very common to sit at desks; work at computers; and slouch over mobile phones, all of which encourage a hunched / kyphotic thoracic position. Be aware of your back and neck posture and if you notice any changes to your posture or any symptoms of pain, weakness or discomfort, please see one of our physios for an assessment to determine a suitable plan.