Exams and Tests for Kyphosis

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Doctor ExamIf you are concerned about an unusual curve to your spine or your child's, call your doctor. Only a doctor can reliably determine if you have kyphosis.

During your visit, your doctor will ask you questions about your health history and perform an examination. There are three parts to the doctor's exam:

  • Physical Exam: During the physical exam, the doctor looks at your back and feels your spine. He or she will be feeling for abnormalities. Also, this part of the physical exam—called palpation—can reveal tender spinal muscles or tender hamstring muscles. The doctor will press on your muscles to see if there is any tenderness.

    Kyphosis is best seen from the side, both standing straight and bending forward. The doctor may do an Adam's Forward Bending Test: in that, you bend forward at the waist. The doctor will look for a rounded curve (more indicative of postural kyphosis) or a more angular curve. The angular curve can be called a gibbus deformity, and it's easier to see when you bend forward. It's also easier for the doctor to see thoracolumbar kyphosis when you bend forward (thoracolumbar kyphosis is an abnormal curve in the region where the thoracic and lumbar spines meet).

    To test your range of motion, your doctor will ask you to bend forward, backward, sideways, and to twist. Some people with kyphosis find it hard to do these movements.
  • Nervous System Exam: Next, your doctor will test your nervous system. The nervous system includes the brain, spinal cord, and nerves that extend like tree branches through the body. The nerves carry messages to and from the brain to control your body. The doctor will ask if any part of your body is painful, tingling, numb, or weak. Because nerves make everything work in the body, the doctor will also ask you if you are able to go to the bathroom normally.
  • Imaging Tests: X-rays are taken of the spine with you standing and laying down so that the doctor can see your spine from behind and from the side. These views will show many problems in the spine, including unusual curves and vertebrae that have unusual shapes (usually wedged shape). X-rays are also used to measure the size of the curve in the spine. A normal range for a kyphotic curve is 20º-50º. Curves greater than 50º are considered hyperkyphotic.

    If your doctor thinks there is a nerve problem, another test called a Magnetic Resonance Imaging test (an MRI) is performed. The pictures produced by an MRI machine are very detailed, so the doctor can see all of the structures in your spine.
Updated on: 09/08/15
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Types of Kyphosis
Jason M. Highsmith, MD
This article was reviewed by Jason M. Highsmith, MD.
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Types of Kyphosis

Kyphosis, an extreme outward curve in the spine, has several types. The doctor will need to determine what type you have because that influences treatment options.
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