Kyphosis: Is It Possible to Get Rid of the Curve?

Question: I am a 70-year-old woman, and for years, I've suffered with kyphosis. The upper part of my back is rounded, giving me a humpback look. Occasionally, I have periods of pain related to the curve. My doctor says that I don't have any fractures in my vertebrae that are causing the hump, so I guess this kyphosis is the effect of years of living. I just read about balloon kyphoplasty on your site, and it seems like it could help straighten me out. Do you think it would help?
—Lutherville, MD
Kyphosis Word CloudAnswer: I'm sorry to say, but I don't think balloon kyphoplasty will work to fix the abnormal curve in your upper back (also known as your thoracic spine). Balloon kyphoplasty was developed to treat spinal fractures—collapsed vertebrae or compression fractures. Since your doctor has confirmed that your kyphosis isn't related to fractures, a balloon kyphoplasty won't help straighten you out.

It sounds to me like you have postural kyphosis (but of course, I can't make an actual diagnosis without seeing you). Poor posture over the years can cause kyphosis, or an extreme rounding of the thoracic spine. It can also affect the cervical spine, which is your neck.

For postural kyphosis, there isn't a quick and easy fix, but there are things that you can do to improve the curve in your back.

Stand Up Straight
I'm certainly not trying to be your mother, but all of us can benefit from a healthy posture reminder every now and then. Since you're 70 years old, working on your posture probably won't entirely fix your kyphotic curve. Instead, thinking about standing and sitting up straight may help prevent the curve from getting worse. A good physical therapist will be able to give you postural training so that you can learn what good posture feels and looks like. Your doctor should be able to refer you to a physical therapist, or you can use the Find a Specialist feature here on SpineUniverse.

Strengthen Your Back Muscles
Another good way to prevent your curve from getting worse is to strengthen your back muscles. As we age, the parts of our spine can degenerate, or wear out—sometimes making you more prone to kyphosis. If you keep your back muscles strong, then the muscles are better able to support your spine and keep it in line.

Again, a good physical therapist will be able to teach you back strengthening exercises. He or she will develop an exercise and stretching plan just for you, taking into consideration your abilities, limitations, and medical history. If you stick to the plan, that should help your kyphotic curve.

Treatments for the Pain
You mention that you have pain from your kyphosis. Your doctor is probably helping you deal with that, but you can take pain killers (like Tylenol) or anti-inflammatories (like Advil or Aleve) for kyphosis-related pain.

I encourage you to get checked for osteoporosis, if you haven't been already. As a post-menopausal woman, you should be monitoring your bone health, especially considering that you have kyphosis. Your doctor can do—or can refer you to another physician who can do—a bone mineral density (BMD) exam to check your risk of osteoporosis.

Osteoporosis weakens your bones and makes you more susceptible to spinal fractures. I know you don't have any fractures now, but by checking your bone health and taking steps to keep your bones strong (eating a good diet that includes calcium, for example), you may be able to prevent them in the future.