Spinal disorder kyphosis can cause pain, breathing difficulties, and a noticeable curvature of the spine. If you’re looking for ways to deal with this disorder and improve your posture and mobility, exercise, yoga, and natural alternatives can go a long way. Depending on how severe your condition is, you may want to choose a combination of one or more treatments to give yourself the best results.
Kyphosis: A Spinal Disorder Due To Posture, Genes, Trauma, And Aging
Kyphosis is a disorder of the spine that makes it curve outward abnormally, resulting in the upper back seeming rounded outward (roundback) or even hunched. Symptoms may include rounding of the shoulders, a noticeable hump on the upper back, fatigue, stiffness of the spine, tight hamstrings, and mild back pain. If the curving progresses with time, you may also lose sensation, feel weakness, tingling, or numbness in your legs, and even have breathing difficulties and shortness of breath.
Kyphosis could be the result of poor posture (postural kyphosis), genetics (congenital kyphosis), or a spinal abnormality (Scheuermann’s kyphosis). The first two forms of the problem tend to set it in at adolescence and usually don’t need any treatments as it has no major side effects. However, special exercises and a support brace aimed at strengthening the spine may help if your condition is bad.1 In adults, kyphosis could be the result of a traumatic injury that fractures one or more vertebra (post-traumatic kyphosis) or aging and associated issues like spine fractures, muscle weakness, and osteoporosis (age-associated kyphosis). Injury-linked kyphosis may cause chronic swelling, pinches nerved, muscle fatigue around the spine, progressive degeneration of your spine, and difficulty sitting. The latter may mean trouble moving and going about normal activities, stiffness, a reduction in height, and pain.2
Your treatment will depend on how bad your symptoms are. While non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like acetaminophen and ibuprofen may be recommended for pain, there are some exercises and natural alternatives you can try to tackle kyphosis.3 Surgery is reserved for when the condition is very severe.
1. Back Brace And Shoe Inserts To Correct Spinal Curvature And Ease Pain
A brace can help offer spinal support and could even reduce the incidence of muscular spasms.4 Doctors usually suggest this for children and adolescents whose bodies are still growing, as is often the case with patients of Scheuermann’s kyphosis. You will need to wear the brace for a fixed number of hours and visit your doctor on a fixed schedule so they can adjust the brace as your spinal curve corrects itself bit by bit. In most instances, the brace will need to be used by the child until their growth is complete and their body has achieved skeletal maturity.5
For adults whose skeletal maturity is already achieved, the brace can’t help prevent the spinal curvature but will alleviate pain. For those who have a difference in the length of their legs as well, orthotics or shoe inserts or lifts can greatly reduce back pain.6
2. Physical Therapy For Erect Posture And Pain Relief
Exercise and physical therapy are important if you are an adult with kyphosis. Research has found that spine strengthening and posture training can bring results as early as 6 months into the routine, improving kyphosis symptoms like spinal curvature.7 Among other things, your physical therapists will teach you specific exercises that help correct and maintain an erect body posture.8 This will include9:
- Postural exercises
- Deep breathing exercises to help improve breathing and respiratory capacity
- General mobility exercises
- Shoulder and leg exercises
- Supported coughing and huffing10 11
A prone lying position is also recommended to help reduce strain on the back. 12
3. Sunlight And Vitamin D And Calcium Foods To Ease Osteoporosis-Linked Kyphosis
If your kyphosis is the result of osteoporosis, you may be able to stem the progression of the spinal problem by treating your osteoporosis. Natural ways to do this are by boosting calcium and vitamin D intake through diet and sunlight exposure.13
- Consume calcium-rich foods: Your options include milk, yogurt, and dairy products like cheese, beans and legumes, dried fruits like figs, vegetables like spinach, broccoli, squash, and okra, tofu, fortified orange juice, sesame seeds, and seafood like mackerel or salmon.14
- Have vitamin-D rich foods: Boost your dietary vitamin D intake by consuming fatty fish like mackerel, tuna, or salmon, cheeses, organ meat like beef liver, or egg yolks.15
- Get some sunlight: While you can get your vitamin D through your diet, sunlight exposure remains one of the most effective ways to help your body generate the vitamin internally. Combine your sunshine time with some exercise like walking; or simply sit or lie down in the sunshine every day for a little while to soak up the rays.16 How much time you’ll need to sit in the sun depends on your skin color, with fair-skinned people requiring less time than darker-skinned people. This could mean anywhere from 15–20 minutes to an hour or more.
4. Swimming And Weight-Bearing Workouts To Improve Mobility
Exercise can help those with kyphosis – the key is to choose non-jarring exercises. Run them by your doctor and physical therapist first. Swimming is usually a good choice.17 Keep up high levels of activity on a regular basis to improve and maintain mobility, include stretching exercises, and work on strengthening the back and core muscles. Pilates and yoga can work well.18 Weight-bearing exercises can be very beneficial for those with aging- or osteoporosis-linked kyphosis.19
5. Yoga To Retrain Posture And Strengthen Back/Core Muscles And Bones
Researchers believe that there is potential for yoga to help make those with kyphosis more upright. Asanas work by strengthening spinal and core muscles and stretching shoulder muscles to enable you to retrain your posture as well.20 Yoga can also help improve bone health, balance, lower risk of falling, and reduce kyphosis in the elderly, a population susceptible to age-associated kyphosis and osteoporosis.21
Supported backbends that can help stretch the front spine ligaments, shortened chest muscles, and abdominal muscles are good for those with kyphosis. Take care not to overextend or overwork the cervical and lumbar regions and focus instead on your midback. Stretches of 2 minutes or more are best for working connective tissue. Supported backbends like those listed below can help. Just be sure not to push yourself so you are in pain. You should be able to breathe comfortably as you do these poses.22
Supported Backbend – Reclining
- Lie down on the ground with a blanket rolled up and placed below your mid-back (between the shoulder blades and lower ribs).
- Stretch pectoral muscles by opening your arms out to the sides to create a 90-degree angle from your elbows and your shoulders.
- Your knees must be a little bent to avoid overarching the lower back.
- Stay in this backbend for between 2 and 5 minutes, building up the hold slowly over time.
Supported Backbend – Seated
- This backbend needs you to be seated on the floor, your mid-back pressed into the edge of the seat of a chair.
- Lean back, letting your head go back to the back of the chair.
- Avoid hyperextending the neck – support your head with your hands or a firm pillow to keep it in control.
- Your knees must stay bent throughout.
- Stay in this backbend for between 2 and 5 minutes, building up the hold slowly over time.
Salabhasana Or Locust Pose
- Lie facedown on your belly on a comfortable yoga mat, with arms by the side.
- Raise your nose and breastbone between 3 and 4 inches from the ground.
- Be sure to ensure your pubic bone remains pressed into the ground – this helps prevent overarching and lower back strain.
- Raise your head and chest only as much as is comfortable.
- Look down at the ground with your eyes, not the wall as this can cause your hyperextend.
- Hold the pose for a few seconds, building up to 30 seconds. 3–4 repetitions at a time are adequate.
Tadasana Or Mountain Pose
This pose helps you become more aware of your posture and engage the muscles, also applying the methods learned in the backbends and locust pose.
- Simply stand with the base of both big toes touching but heels apart a little so that your second toes are now parallel.
- Ensure your weight is evenly balanced on both feet.
- Firm up your thighs and turn the upper thighs a little inward.
- Let your shoulder blades press into your back, first widened then released.
- Your arms must hang by the side of your torso. The crown of your head must be centered with your pelvis.
- Feel your legs extend into the ground and your spine lengthen up to the sky.
- Recall where you felt the chair or blanket press into your mid back and lift upward from that point. You should feel your breastbone rise and a space open up in the upper sections of your lungs.
Your mid-back muscles should now feel revived and energized and not hard.
Surgery To Fix Excessive Spinal Curvature In Severe Kyphosis
Even though it happens rarely, those with a severe form of kyphosis may experience a lot of pain and breathing problems due to major spinal deformity. In such conditions, surgery may be required. Surgery can help correct the excessive spinal curvature some people experience due to kyphosis. Some individuals are born with the problem known as congenital kyphosis and usually need early surgical treatment to prevent the progression of the curving of the spine. Typical candidates for later surgery are those experiencing very severe back pain that is not responding to any other treatment, and children or teens with Scheuermann’s kyphosis and spinal curvature in excess of 75 degrees.23
|↑1, ↑5, ↑23||Kyphosis (Roundback) of the Spine. American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons.|
|↑2, ↑3, ↑4||Conditions & Treatments: For Adults: Kyphosis. Scoliosis Research Society.|
|↑6, ↑8, ↑13, ↑17, ↑19||Adult Kyphosis. University of Maryland Medical Center.|
|↑7||Katzman, W. B., E. Vittinghoff, F. Lin, A. Schafer, R. K. Long, S. Wong, A. Gladin et al. “Targeted spine strengthening exercise and posture training program to reduce hyperkyphosis in older adults: results from the study of hyperkyphosis, exercise, and function (SHEAF) randomized controlled trial.” Osteoporosis International28, no. 10 (2017): 2831-2841.|
|↑9||Physiotherapy for Scoliosis and Kyphosis Correction. NHS Foundation Trust.|
|↑10, ↑11, ↑12||Joshi, Jayant. Essentials Of Orthopaedics & Applied Physiotherapy. Elsevier India, 1999.|
|↑14||Calcium Content of Foods. UCSF Medical Center.|
|↑15, ↑16||Vitamin D. University of Maryland Medical Center.|
|↑18||Kyphosis – Treatment. National Health Service.|
|↑20||Greendale, Gail A., Mei‐Hua Huang, Arun S. Karlamangla, Leanne Seeger, and Sybil Crawford. “Yoga decreases kyphosis in senior women and men with adult‐onset hyperkyphosis: results of a randomized controlled trial.” Journal of the American Geriatrics Society 57, no. 9 (2009): 1569-1579.|
|↑21||Balk, Judith, and Lisa Marie Bernardo. “Using yoga to promote bone health and reduce fracture risk in the geriatric population.” Topics in Geriatric Rehabilitation 27, no. 2 (2011): 116-123.|
|↑22||Yoga for Better Posture: Strengthen Your Back to Prevent Slouching. Yoga Journal.|