What is the difference between Kyphosis and Scoliosis?

Do you remember having physicals when you were a kid? If so, you probably recall the infamous scoliosis check, in which a nurse or doctor had you bend over with your arms hanging while they looked at your back.

This method is known as the Adams forward bend test. However, the examiner was most likely also looking for scoliosis, an uneven side-to-side bend of the spine, and kyphosis, a mix of kyphosis and scoliosis.

What Is Kyphosis?

Kyphosis, sometimes known as the “dowager’s hump,” can occur at any age in anyone, but it is more common in women as they age. Kyphosis occurs when the normally cylindrical vertebrae of the spine begin to curve forward and outward like a wedge. Vertebral deformation can be brought on by any of the following:

  • Disc degeneration refers to the breakdown of the spinal discs that separate each vertebra.
  • Fractures in the vertebrae
  • The disease known as osteoporosis causes a slow but steady loss of bone density and structural integrity.
  • Problems not related to the spine, such as some health conditions
  • Scheuermann disease strikes before puberty, when a child experiences a growth spurt, and causes the vertebrae to begin to change form.

Minor kyphosis is not likely to cause noticeable symptoms because of the inherent kyphosis of the upper back. However, those with a significant curvature may have pain and/or stiffness in their back.

What’s the Difference Between Scoliosis and Kyphosis?

Scoliosis is when the spine curves side to side, either in a “s” or “c” shape. Kyphosis, on the other hand, is characterized by an unnatural curvature of the spine toward the back. Unlike kyphosis, which typically affects the upper back where the cervical (neck) vertebrae are located, scoliosis typically develops in the thoracic (middle back) region of the spine.

Why Are Scoliosis and Kyphosis Seen Together So Often?

“When there is one abnormality of the spine, the spine, and the person compensate to reduce the stress on their center of gravity and their best sense of balance,” explains physiatrist and medical director of Manhattan Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation in New York City Loren Fishman, M.D. Furthermore, structural bone abnormalities, such as those present in osteogenesis imperfecta, also known as brittle bone disease, also lead to the same spine weakening that produces scoliosis and kyphosis. In both kyphosis and scoliosis, the spinal column curves, although in opposite directions.

Kyphosis and Scoliosis

How Do Doctors Deal With Kyphosis and Scoliosis?

Even if the two curves may be treated the same, they are treated separately. Treatment for kyphosis and scoliosis depends on the degree to which the curvature has progressed. Scoliosis treatment plans are ultimately decided by the degree of spinal curvature present. Scoliosis is usually not treated if it is mild; instead, the patient is monitored to prevent the curve from getting worse.

Dr. Fishman says that the weakness on one side of the body can be corrected by building up the muscles on the other. Using botulinum toxin, a paralytic toxin that may be used to disguise wrinkles or cause food poisoning, we are currently doing a study in which we aim to inactivate and partially weaken the stronger side.

So far, we’ve had astoundingly good results that are remarkably like the fantastic outcomes one experiences after surgery, minus the drawbacks. A back brace or surgery may be necessary for patients with moderate to severe scoliosis in order to help correct the curve and stop it from getting worse.

Like scoliosis, the severity of kyphosis will determine the course of treatment. The most important and effective way to treat kyphosis is to exercise on a regular basis and find other ways to be physically active throughout the day. In mild cases of kyphosis, over-the-counter pain relievers may not be enough, in which case prescription pain medication may be necessary.

In addition, specialized muscle therapy may help kyphosis improve, and osteoporosis medicines may be recommended to help prevent osteoporotic compression fractures that can exacerbate the condition. Although kyphosis has nothing to do with muscles, we treat it by strengthening the back. Dr. Fishman suggests that working on certain back muscles may help.

However, kyphosis is not easily treated. People’s kyphosis typically improves dramatically in the treatment room but returns by the time they check out at the front desk. It’s an ongoing problem that requires the patient’s full focus and attention at all times.


However, kyphosis and scoliosis may curve or be treated (sometimes simultaneously), and correcting the spine’s alignment is the ultimate goal. If you or a young patient see an issue with their spine, you should see a doctor to determine the best course of action. With proper care and time, even the most bent spines can become straight.

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