Updated: Mar 25, 2022
Your spine consists of a series of bones called vertebrae that are connected by joints and ligaments. In most cases, the spine develops in a pretty straight line. Sometimes, though, the spine can curve from one side to the other or from front to back.
Depending on the amount of curvature, this type of deformity can cause a lot of pain, especially when treatment is delayed. In fact, the type of spinal curvature called scoliosis is a relatively common cause of chronic back pain, affecting about 2-3% of Americans.
While scoliosis is often diagnosed and treated in adolescence, adults can develop adult scoliosis and another type of spinal curvature called kyphosis.
As a leading orthopaedic spine specialist in southern New Jersey, Evan O’Brien, MD, uses the most advanced techniques to diagnose and treat spinal curvature, including scoliosis and kyphosis, in our patients at Woodbury Spine.
Adult spinal curvature
Your spine is not designed to be completely straight. It has subtle front-to-back curves to help provide support and movement. These curves are located at your neck, your lower back, and around your chest or midsection.
Even with the curves, though, when your spine is seen from the rear, it looks like it’s running straight up and down through the center of your back. From the side, the curves at your neck and lower back are very subtle.
If you have spinal curvature, your spine can look much different when viewed from the back or the side. What you see will depend on whether you have scoliosis or kyphosis.
Scoliosis vs. kyphosis
Scoliosis is a side-to-side curvature in your spine. Viewed from the back, your spine will appear more like a letter C or a letter S, depending on where and how the curvature occurs.
Kyphosis (also called kyphoscoliosis) is a deep front-to-back curve typically occurring at the upper part of your spine, near your neck. If you have kyphosis, your spine looks hunched near your shoulder area.
Spinal curvature: Causes and symptoms
Most spinal curvature is “idiopathic,” which means the cause isn’t known. In adults, spinal curvature may develop as you get older, and age-related changes cause your spine’s shape to alter.
It can also be caused by degenerative spinal diseases. Some adults have had spinal curvature dating back to their own adolescence, but either the condition wasn’t diagnosed then or it wasn’t properly treated.
Regardless of what causes spinal curvature, the symptoms are the same. Chronic back pain is a pretty common complaint associated with spinal curvature, and it’s sometimes accompanied by pain or numbness in the arms, legs, hands, or feet.
If the curvature affects your lungs or heart, you might have difficulty breathing or exercising, or you might feel fatigued or tire out easily. Some people with moderate-to-severe spinal curvature find it difficult to walk or perform other activities.
Treating scoliosis and kyphosis
X-rays, CT scans, or MRI imaging are typically used in combination with a physical exam and medical history to diagnose spinal curvature. Once Dr. O’Brien determines the extent of scoliosis or kyphosis, he develops a treatment plan that’s unique to your needs.
Depending on the extent of curvature, your symptoms, and other factors, your treatment plan may begin with conservative options, like:
Application of moist heat
Medicine (oral or injections) to relieve pain and inflammation
Strength and flexibility training
For more severe curvature, or if your curvature is affecting your heart or lungs, Dr. O’Brien might recommend spinal surgery to remove one or more discs or to insert a special rod to help support your spine in a more natural position.
Learn more about our scoliosis and kyphosis treatments
If you’ve been diagnosed with scoliosis or kyphosis, or if you’re not sure what’s causing your chronic back pain, our team can help. Call the office or book a visit online and take the first step toward feeling better.