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Cervical Kyphosis

What Is Cervical Kyphosis?

Cervical kyphosis (pronounced: SUR-vih-kull kye-FOE-siss) is a curve at the top of the spine (backbone). This part of the spine supports the neck. It's normal for it to curve a bit from back to front. But when a child has kyphosis, the curve is bigger than normal. That can lead to problems.

What Happens in Cervical Kyphosis?

If there is a very big curve in the neck, bones in the spine called vertebrae might pinch the spinal cord. The spinal cord is the body's central communication system. It's a tube of nerves that runs inside the spine. The nerves branch out to every part of the body. They send messages between the brain and the rest of the body.

Most cervical kyphosis isn't serious. But a pinch in the spinal cord can damage the nerves. If damage is very bad, the nerves can't send important signals like telling the lungs to breathe or blood to move around the body.

What Are the Signs & Symptoms of Cervical Kyphosis?

Here are some things parents may notice when a child has cervical kyphosis:

  • an unusual curve in the child's neck
  • the child has trouble looking up or turning his or her head
  • the child has neck pain

If the curve is sharp enough to pinch the spinal cord, kids might have these problems:

  • pain, tingling, loss of feeling, or weakness
  • be unable to move their arms or legs
  • trouble peeing or pooping
  • accidents because they can't control when they pee or poop (called incontinence)

How Is Cervical Kyphosis Diagnosed?

If you think your child has a neck problem, make an appointment with your pediatrician. The doctor, nurse, or physician assistant will ask about what's going on. To diagnose kyphosis, they will order tests like X-rays or MRIs (magnetic resonance imaging). 

If the pediatrician thinks your child needs specialized help, he or she will send you to a specialist. Specialists who treat kids with kyphosis might be neurologists (experts in the nervous system) or orthopedists (experts in bones, muscles, and joints).

How Is Cervical Kyphosis Treated?

Treatment depends on the child's age and how bad the curve is. Here are some of the things health care providers do:

Bracing. Very young children may wear a neck brace to treat cervical kyphosis. Neck braces don't work as well for older kids.  

Physical therapy. Physical therapists work with kids to help improve flexibility and reduce pain.

Pain management. If kids have pain, doctors and nurses prescribe medicines and other pain management techniques.

Surgery. Kids need surgery when a curve puts pressure on the spinal cord in a way that may cause nerve damage. Kids who also have diseases that make their bones weak or slow to heal may need more than one operation.

What Causes Cervical Kyphosis?

Kids can get cervical kyphosis in two ways:

  1. They are born with it. This is called congenital cervical kyphosis. No one knows what causes it. Doctors do know that it has nothing to do with anything a mom did when she was pregnant.
  2. Something goes wrong in the body. This is called acquired cervical kyphosis. Lots of different things can cause it:
    • injury to the bones of the spine or the ligaments around them
    • infection
    • tumors
    • surgery
    • radiation treatment for cancer

Who Gets Cervical Kyphosis?

Cervical kyphosis isn't common. It can happen to any child, but kids with kyphosis often have another health problem as well.

Some kids have kyphosis because of a condition that affects bone growth, like osteogenesis imperfecta. Kids with dwarfism, spina bifida, or neurofibromatosis type 1 are also more likely to have kyphosis. 

Parents can't stop cervical kyphosis from happening. But they can help kids get the best care.

What Can Parents Do?

It's important to diagnose spine problems early. If kids don't get treatment, some may end up with spinal cord damage that can't be fixed. Here are tips for avoiding problems:

  • See a doctor if your child has trouble with head movements or neck pain. Neck trouble needs to be checked out to be sure it's not something serious.
  • Go to all medical appointments if your child has cervical kyphosis. Even a small curve can get bigger as a child grows. Your child's care team will want to keep watching for possible problems.
  • If your child had surgery, ask the care team when you should bring your child for follow-up visits. The care team will monitor your child to be sure the kyphosis does not come back.

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