Scheuermann’s Disease (Kyphosis)
Scheuermann’s disease, also known as Scheuermann’s kyphosis or juvenile kyphosis, is a condition that affects the spine, specifically the thoracic (upper back) region. It is named after the Danish surgeon Holger Scheuermann, who first described the disease in 1920.
Scheuermann’s disease is characterized by abnormal growth and development of the vertebrae, the small bones that make up the spine. During the growth spurt that occurs in adolescence, the front part of the vertebrae (vertebral bodies) grows slower than the back part. This results in wedge-shaped vertebrae with a greater curvature towards the front of the spine, leading to an exaggerated rounding of the upper back, known as kyphosis.
The exact cause of Scheuermann’s disease (kyphosis) is not well understood. However, there are several factors that are believed to contribute to its development. These include –
- Genetics – There is evidence to suggest that Scheuermann’s disease has a genetic component. It tends to run in families, and certain genetic variations may increase the risk of developing the condition. However, the specific genes involved have not been identified.
- Abnormal bone development – Scheuermann’s disease is characterized by abnormal growth and development of the vertebrae, particularly in the thoracic (upper back) region. The front part of the vertebrae (vertebral bodies) may not grow properly, leading to wedge-shaped vertebrae. The reasons for this abnormal bone development are not fully understood.
- Mechanical factors – Mechanical stresses on the spine may play a role in the development of Scheuermann’s disease. Poor posture, carrying heavy loads, repetitive activities that strain the back, and trauma or injury to the spine have been suggested as potential contributing factors. These mechanical factors may interact with the underlying genetic predisposition, but their exact role is still not well-defined.
- Hormonal factors – Hormonal imbalances or changes during adolescence have been hypothesized as potential contributors to Scheuermann’s disease. The condition typically becomes apparent during the growth spurt that occurs in adolescence, suggesting that hormonal factors may be involved. However, more research is needed to understand the specific hormonal influences on the development of the disease.
These factors are considered potential contributors to Scheuermann’s disease, but the exact mechanisms and interactions between them are not yet fully understood. Scheuermann’s disease is likely a multifactorial condition, meaning that a combination of genetic, structural, and environmental factors contributes to its onset and progression. Further research is needed to gain a deeper understanding of the underlying causes of Scheuermann’s disease.
The symptoms of Scheuermann’s disease, also known as Scheuermann’s kyphosis or juvenile kyphosis, can vary in severity and may include –
- Rounded upper back – The primary visible sign of Scheuermann’s disease is increased curvature of the upper back, resulting in a hunched or rounded appearance. The curvature is most commonly located in the thoracic (upper and middle) spine.
- Back pain – Many individuals with Scheuermann’s disease experience mild to moderate back pain, which can be localized to the area of the curvature or may be more generalized across the upper back. The pain can be aggravated by activities that involve prolonged standing or sitting.
- Stiffness – The spine may become stiff and less flexible, leading to difficulties in bending or twisting. This stiffness can contribute to a decreased range of motion in the affected area of the spine.
- Fatigue – Due to the increased strain on the back, individuals with Scheuermann’s disease may experience fatigue or discomfort after physical activities, especially those that require prolonged periods of standing or walking.
- Changes in appearance – In addition to the rounded upper back, other changes in appearance may be noticeable. These can include an exaggerated forward head posture, uneven shoulder heights, or prominence of the rib cage.
- Rare neurological symptoms – In severe cases of Scheuermann’s disease, compression of the spinal cord or nerve roots can occur. This can lead to neurological symptoms such as numbness, tingling, weakness, or changes in bowel or bladder function. However, it is important to note that these neurological symptoms are relatively rare.
It is necessary to consult with a healthcare professional for a proper diagnosis if you suspect Scheuermann’s disease. They will perform a physical examination, review your medical history, and may order imaging studies such as X-rays or MRI scans to evaluate the shape and structure of the vertebrae. Treatment options will depend on the severity of the condition and the presence of symptoms.
Diagnosis and Tests
To diagnose Scheuermann’s disease (kyphosis), healthcare professionals may use a combination of physical examinations, medical history reviews, and diagnostic imaging tests. Here are the common diagnostic tests used –
- Physical examination – The healthcare provider will perform a physical examination to assess the curvature of the spine, observe the patient’s posture, and check for any visible signs of kyphosis. They may ask the patient to bend forward to evaluate the flexibility and range of motion in the spine.
- Medical history review – The healthcare provider will review the patient’s medical history and ask about any symptoms they are experiencing, such as back pain or stiffness. They will also inquire about any family history of spinal conditions.
- X-rays – X-rays are commonly used to evaluate the shape and structure of the spine. They can reveal the presence of wedged or triangular-shaped vertebrae, the degree of curvature, and any other abnormalities. X-rays can help confirm the diagnosis of Scheuermann’s disease and determine the severity of the condition.
- MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) – In some cases, an MRI scan may be ordered to provide more detailed images of the spine. MRI scans can help evaluate the soft tissues, discs, nerves, and spinal cord, and they may be used if there is a suspicion of nerve compression or other associated spinal abnormalities.
- CT scan (Computed Tomography) – A CT scan may be used in certain situations to obtain more detailed images of the vertebrae and assess the bony structures. It can provide cross-sectional images of the spine and help evaluate the severity of the curvature.
It is necessary to consult with a healthcare professional for an accurate diagnosis. They will assess the individual’s symptoms, perform the necessary tests, and determine the appropriate treatment plan based on the findings.
The treatment options for Scheuermann’s disease (kyphosis) depend on the severity of the condition, the presence of symptoms, and the individual’s age. The primary goals of treatment are to alleviate pain, improve posture, and prevent further progression of the spinal curvature. Here are the common treatment approaches –
- Observation and monitoring – In mild cases of Scheuermann’s disease with minimal symptoms or cosmetic concerns, a healthcare provider may choose to observe the condition over time without immediate intervention. Regular monitoring and follow-up visits will be scheduled to assess any changes or progression.
- Physical therapy and exercises – Physical therapy is often recommended to improve posture, strengthen the back muscles, and increase flexibility. Specific exercises targeting the affected area can help alleviate pain, improve spinal alignment, and enhance overall spine health. A physical therapist can provide personalized exercise programs and guidance.
- Pain management – Over-the-counter pain medications, such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), can be used to manage pain and inflammation associated with Scheuermann’s disease. In some cases, a healthcare provider may prescribe stronger pain medications or recommend other pain management techniques, such as heat or cold therapy.
- Bracing – Bracing may be considered in moderate to severe cases of Scheuermann’s disease, particularly in adolescents who are still growing. Bracing aims to support the spine, improve posture, and potentially slow down the progression of the curvature. The type and duration of bracing will depend on the individual’s specific needs and the severity of the condition.
- Surgical intervention – Surgery is rarely necessary for Scheuermann’s disease but may be considered in severe cases where conservative treatments have been ineffective or if there is a neurological compromise. Surgical procedures involve correcting the spinal curvature and stabilizing the spine using instrumentation, such as rods, screws, or other devices. Surgery is typically reserved for cases with significant deformities or severe symptoms.
Individuals with Scheuermann’s disease must maintain good posture, engage in regular physical activity, and follow the recommendations of healthcare professionals. Regular follow-up visits are essential to monitor the condition’s progression and make any necessary adjustments to the treatment plan.