Scoliosis and Kyphosis: What to Know

Medically Reviewed

There are two basic types of spinal deformities: kyphosis and scoliosis. These conditions usually develop during childhood or adolescence and worsen over time. They may develop in older people, but solely as the result of degenerative changes that occur with age.

What is kyphosis?

This condition is characterized by extensive flexion (bending forward) of the spine. It usually affects the upper back (the thoracic spine) but may also occur in the neck or lower back.

Thoracic kyphosis is sometimes referred to as dowager’s hump, humpback, or hunchback. Kyphosis is particularly common in older women and can result from disc degeneration (in which the discs lose moisture and shrink), vertebral fractures due to osteoporosis, or both.

What is scoliosis?

Defined as an abnormal sideways bend to the back, scoliosis is caused by a twisting of the spine. It can occur at any location in the spine. The amount of pain caused by scoliosis usually depends on the degree of the deformity; more pronounced bends tend to be more painful.

Most cases of scoliosis in our society develop in childhood; it may progress later in life, however, because of disc degeneration. Scoliosis can also occur because of arthritis later in life.

Learn about common causes of back pain and how to relieve it.