Although kyphosis is more common in the thoracic spine, the condition can also affect the lumbar and cervical spine. Cervical kyphosis – also known as “military neck” – occurs when the cervical spine is straight or curves inward rather than its natural curve towards the back of the body.
Perhaps you know someone with this rare spinal deformity or have seen pictures of patients undergoing treatment for cervical kyphosis. If you suspect that you or a loved one has cervical spine kyphosis, what follows are the warning signs to look for, along with steps you can take to live a happier, healthier life.
What Is Cervical Kyphosis?
When looking at the profile of a human body, the neck should have a natural curve shaped like the letter “C” with the opening facing the back. This type of curve is medically referred to as “lordosis.” In cervical kyphosis, the curve straightens up (military neck) or in some cases reverses, with the C opening facing towards the front of the body.
Why is this important? The curve of your neck determines the level of your natural gaze. Your cervical spine supports your head, which allows you to move and rotate your head. Cervical spine nerves branch out to your body, controlling many essential functions such as breathing and upper body movement. In addition to chronic pain, patients with cervical kyphosis often experience neurological symptoms as a result.
What Causes Cervical Kyphosis?
Cervical kyphosis is a rare condition most often seen in teenagers because their bones are growing so quickly. But cervical kyphosis can also develop later in life, most notably in those aged 65+. Adult-onset kyphosis occurs as an older person’s vertebrae become less flexible, increasing the likelihood for their spine to tilt forward.
When diagnosed in children or adults, cervical kyphosis is typically caused by:
- Degenerative disc disease
- Trauma or injury of the spine
- Spine tumors
- Congenital spinal abnormalities
- Ankylosing spondylitis
- A laminectomy surgical procedure
Cervical Kyphosis Symptoms
A crooked neck could mean that your cervical vertebrae have shifted out of alignment. Once that happens, symptoms of cervical kyphosis vary and can range from mild cases to those resulting in permanent deformity, neurological damage, or even paralysis when left untreated.
In general, symptoms of cervical kyphosis may include:
- Decreased range of motion of your head and neck
- Permanent downward gaze (more serious cases)
- Instability while walking
- Difficulty swallowing (dysphagia)
- Decrease or loss of fine motor function in your hands
- Muscle weakness in your shoulders, arms, or hands
- Poor urinary or fecal control
- Numbness or tingling in your shoulders, arms, or hands
- Pain in your neck, back, shoulders, or arms
- A rounded or hunched back
- Tight hamstring muscles
- Difficulties with limb mobility
What to Do in Case I suffer from Cervical Kyphosis?
Although cervical kyphosis is not a disability in and of itself, when left untreated it can be serious, lifestyle-limiting, and even cause paralysis. If you even suspect that you or a loved one might be suffering from cervical kyphosis, it’s best that you promptly see a doctor with appropriate training on how to diagnose and treat neck and back deformities.
While there, they will ask you questions related to your medical history, including any symptoms you might be experiencing. Your doctor will also perform a physical examination that includes assessments of your balance, posture, strength, reflexes, and movement. He or she may also order additional medical imaging tests such as X-rays, an MRI, or a CT scan.
Conservative Treatment Options (Non-Surgical)
Once you’ve been diagnosed with cervical kyphosis, your spine specialist will then present you with a variety of treatment options. For mild cervical kyphosis, the standard of care is usually starting with one or more non-surgical treatments.
Those conservative management and treatment options may include:
- Neck bracing
- Physical therapy
- Pain management
In addition, some patients find that using a cervical kyphosis pillow while sleeping or traveling helps reduce the pain even more when combined with other non-surgical treatments.
How Is Cervical Kyphosis Treated Surgically?
If you are experiencing significant pain or any neurological symptoms (tingling, coordination problems, muscle weakness, etc.), your doctor may recommend cervical kyphosis surgery. The type of surgery you choose should rely on whether your neck has some flexibility or not, as is often the case in patients with ankylosing spondylitis.
The main objectives for performing cervical kyphosis surgery are:
- Restoring the natural curvature of your spine
- Relieving pressure off your spinal cord and nerves
- Restabilizing your spine
Back and neck surgeons have several surgical techniques at their disposal when repairing the cervical spine, including:
- An anterior approach, which means they access the spine near your throat
- A posterior approach, which means they enter through the back of your neck
- A combined anterior and posterior approach
Depending on what’s causing your kyphosis, the surgeon may have to cut or remove sections of bone. They may also need to insert metal rods, plates, or screws to stabilize the cervical vertebrae.
Cervical kyphosis surgery typically requires a hospital stay, along with a designated rest period that includes limited movement. You will need to follow your doctor’s instructions carefully, including any dos and don’ts they recommend. They may also order physical therapy to improve your movement and reduce pain.
How Can I Prevent Cervical Kyphosis?
Unfortunately, there is no sure-fire way to prevent cervical kyphosis. Once you’ve been diagnosed with a spinal condition such as degenerative disc disease or ankylosing spondylitis, it’s crucial that you speak to your doctor about physical therapy, exercise, and other lifestyle modifications.
Benefits of regular physical activity include pain reduction, increased strength and flexibility, and the fact that it helps prevent further deterioration of your spine. Not using oversized pillows while sleeping can help minimize flexion (action of bending) while lying on your back.
What Is the Prognosis After Surgery for Cervical Kyphosis?
Most any type of surgery will carry a risk of infection, blood clots, bleeding and a negative reaction to anesthesia. Cervical kyphosis comes with the added risk of injuring the spinal cord, and because the spinal column runs the full length of your body, surgery on one area of your spine could cause problems elsewhere.
Generally speaking, the average child or adult responds well to and recovers fully from cervical kyphosis surgery. And although there are risks involved, getting your neck realigned can provide you with many physical benefits and markedly improve your quality of life!
Is Cervical Kyphosis Reversible?
Thankfully, the forward curvature of the spine that’s indicative of cervical kyphosis can be reversed. Treatment with non-surgical methodologies such as physical therapy, a neck brace, kyphosis pillow, and pain medications are often effective in mild cases. If your kyphosis is more serious, surgery may be able to correct the curve in your spine and provide symptomatic relief.
A Proud History of Spine Care Excellence
As this article pointed out, cervical kyphosis can be debilitating while causing you pain and reduced quality of life. At The Spine Center, we’re dedicated to providing you with high-quality, personalized back and neck care. We strive to offer efficient and professional services to our patients. We have a strong commitment to excellence in diagnosing and treating spinal injuries and conditions spanning all ages.
As fellowship-trained physicians with over 50 years of experience treating spinal conditions, we offer patient recommendations for treatment, including conservative care, non-operative treatment, and customized surgical solutions. If you or a loved one suffer from back or neck pain, call The Spine Center today at (847) 628-8147 to schedule a consultation.