As you grow older, you may find yourself bending over from your upper back as you walk. This slight curvature of the spine is common in many older people. Orthopaedic specialists call this kyphosis, a back-to-front curvature of the spine. Normally, not a problem, for some people it becomes so severe that standing up is difficult without support. Here is what you need to know about this bone disorder and how your doctor can help.
Your Healthy Back
Your spine is a stack of vertebrae made of bone separated by cushioning discs of cartilage. These discs keep the bones from rubbing directly on each other. They are also what gives your spine its flexibility. Muscles connected to your spine in your upper back form a slight curve of the spine forward. This compensates for the slight curve back of your lower back. Together, those two curves allow you to stand up straight with your head looking forward.
Bone Disease Exaggerates the Curve
One disease that affects older individuals is osteoporosis. This disease reduces your body's production of new bone cells so it's unable to keep up with the normal loss of bone through wear and tear. The vertebrae in your upper back become more porous and may collapse on themselves forming a slight wedge shape. As more bones in your upper spine are affected, the forward curve of the spine increases.
With age, the cushioning discs become more rigid and add to the spinal curve. Kyphosis, or the abnormal curve of your spine, can become so severe that your upper back and neck hold your head at a right angle to your body, causing you to look straight down when you are standing. You may also experience pain from irritated nerves along your spine
Treatment Options for Kyphosis
Your doctor will use x-rays, CT scans and MRIs to determine the extent of the bone damage and identity which vertebrae are affected. The precise cause of osteoporosis is unknown so the goal of treatment is to slow down the bone loss and reduce the painful symptoms.
In a minor case of kyphosis, your doctor may give you a medication to stimulate new bone growth. Your doctor will recommend changes to your diet to enhance bone strength. Calcium and vitamin D supplements can provide your body with more of the building blocks to create new bone.
With a severe case of the disease, the affected vertebrae may have multiple, small fractures on the side that is compressed. These bones need to be supported to prevent further degeneration. Spinal fusion may be recommended. In this procedure the doctor uses bone graphs to fuse two or more vertebrae together. Metal rods or cables are placed alongside of the spine to support it while the bones grow together. This stops the forward curve of your spine from getting worse. It also reduces your pain from the nerve irritation. What you lose is some flexibility of your spine.
If you or a family member spots what appears to be an unusual curvature of your spine, have an orthopedic doctor (like those at Martin Medical Center) examine you. If you catch the disease early, the progression can be slowed down so you may never need surgery.Share
17 June 2015
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