If your child or teen has been diagnosed with kyphosis (also known as hyper-kyphosis), we know that you and your family are concerned. At Boston Children’s Hospital, we’ll approach your child’s treatment with sensitivity and support—for your child and your whole family.

Whether your child’s condition is mild or more severe, you can have peace of mind knowing that the team in Boston Children’s Spinal Program has treated a large volume of spinal problems that few pediatric hospitals have ever seen — and we can provide expert diagnosis, treatment and care.

What is the spine?

Made up of many individual bones called vertebrae, the spine is joined together by muscles and ligaments. Flat, soft discs separate and cushion each vertebra from the next. Because the vertebrae are separate, the spine is flexible and can bend. Together the vertebrae, discs, muscles and ligaments make up the vertebral column or spine.

Different regions of the spine are named differently. The cervical spine refers to the neck region, the thoracic spine to the chest region (where kyphosis occurs), and the lumbar and sacral spines to the lower back region.

Kyphosis illustration

What to know about kyphosis

Some degree of kyphosis — a forward curve in the upper spine — is a normal shape. In fact, the normal spine can bend from 20 to 45 degrees of curvature in the upper back (thoracic) area — an acceptable range. 

But if your child's curvature reaches 50 degrees or greater, it’s considered abnormal kyphosis — a forward curvature of the back bones (vertebrae) in the upper back area, giving your child an abnormally rounded or "humpback" appearance. Kyphosis is more common in girls than in boys and most cases are mild and require only close monitoring by a doctor until the child has stopped growing.

Normal and abnormal front-to-back spine curves

The normal spine is strong and mobile. While it varies in size and shape from person to person, the healthy spine has natural front-to-back curves that enable us to walk, balance, sit, stand and twist — all of which are complex interactive movements. When these natural front-to-back curves become too large, they can present problems:

  • When the forward curve in the thoracic spine is too great, the condition is called kyphosis (hyper-kyphosis, thoracic hyper-kyphosis, “round back”).
  • When the inward curve in the lower back is too great, the condition is called hyper-lordosis (“swayback”). 

When to seek medical advice

Congenital kyphosis is present at birth, but may not be apparent until later. Consult your pediatrician if your child is developing a rounded upper back, and/or if your family has a history of spinal problems.