Cervical kyphosis, also known as “military neck,” occurs when a person’s cervical spine is straight or curves towards the front of their body rather than its natural curvature towards the back. In significant cases, individuals with cervical kyphosis may experience chronic pain, neurological symptoms, and disability. If you have recently been diagnosed with cervical kyphosis, the good news is that surgical and nonsurgical treatments are available to restore the shape of your spine and relieve your symptoms. But can you reverse cervical kyphosis? Read on to learn what the experts say.
What is cervical kyphosis?
Your cervical spine contains seven bones, or vertebrae, in your neck that start right under your skull. Between each of the vertebra are discs that help cushion the bones and keep them from rubbing together. When looking at your body’s profile, the neck has a natural C-shaped (lordotic) curve, with the opening facing your back.
In cervical kyphosis, the curve either straightens or reverses, leaving the “C” opening toward the front of your body. The curvature of the neck then dictates the eye level of your natural gaze. As the condition worsens (flexible kyphosis), the neck’s abnormal curve can cause a person’s natural gaze to tilt downward.
Who is at risk for cervical kyphosis?
Cervical kyphosis is a rare condition most often seen in teenagers due to the fact their bones are growing rapidly. However, it can develop at any point during one’s lifetime – notably in older adults. That’s because as the average person ages, their vertebrae become less flexible, making it more likely for their spine to tilt forward.
What causes cervical kyphosis?
Kyphosis is more likely to present in someone with:
- Trauma or injury of the spine
- Degenerative disc disease
- Spine tumors
Spinal abnormalities present at birth (congenital kyphosis)
Can surgery cause cervical kyphosis?
Any child or adult who undergoes a laminectomy can develop cervical kyphosis. A laminectomy is a surgical procedure performed to relieve spinal cord compression typically resulting from a narrowing of the spaces (spinal stenosis) in the spine.
Sometimes, the procedure changes the way the patient’s head is supported on the cervical spine while inducing a forward tilt. Once that happens, the head’s weight starts to move forward, causing a progression of the kyphotic abnormality.
How is cervical kyphosis diagnosed?
When performing a kyphosis evaluation, your spine specialist will take a medical history, ask you about any symptoms you are experiencing, and conduct a thorough physical examination. During the physical exam, the doctor will assess your:
- Physical strength
- Range of movement
To make a definitive diagnosis, your doctor may also order medical imaging tests such as X-rays, a CT scan, and/or an MRI.
How is cervical kyphosis treated?
Treatment for cervical kyphosis varies and is dependent on whether there is direct pressure on the spinal cord. If so, your doctor may recommend that you undergo surgery right away. If you are experiencing milder pain and have concerns about your appearance, the doctor may suggest non-surgical treatments such as pain medications, physical therapy, and a neck brace.
Thankfully, excessive cervical kyphosis can now be treated using the latest surgical methods. The preferred surgery to treat kyphosis is usually a spinal fusion combined with “segmental instrumentation.” That means that the surgeon uses some type of metal rod or metal plate to hold the spine in the proper alignment.
However, surgery is usually not recommended if the deformity is fixed (not getting worse) and there are no neurological issues due to pressure on the spinal cord. In cases when the kyphosis is flexible and getting worse, the decision to proceed with surgery should be determined by:
- The progression of the deformity
- The severity of the deformity
- Amount of pain that the patient is experiencing
- Neurological symptoms (muscle weakness, tingling, coordination issues, etc.)
In other words, if your deformity is severe and your pain is chronic and significant, surgery may be the best option for you. If not, physical therapy that includes neck exercises and/or traction may provide pain relief and restore a normal neck curve.
What is the prognosis after surgery for cervical kyphosis?
Generally speaking, most children and adults tolerate kyphosis surgery well. However, nearly all surgeries carry a risk of infection, bleeding, blood clots, and reaction to anesthesia – including cervical kyphosis surgery. Regarding cervical kyphosis surgery, there is also a risk of injury to the spinal cord. And finally, because the spine runs the full length of your body, correction in one area of your spine could eventually cause issues elsewhere along your spine.
Is cervical kyphosis reversible?
The simple answer to this all-important question is “Yes!” The forward curvature of the spine that a person with cervical kyphosis presents can be reversed using the right nonsurgical and surgical treatments. As someone who has been forced to live with a cervical deformity, having your neck realigned through kyphosis surgery should result in a reduction in pain, improved physical appearance, and other benefits that could dramatically improve your quality of life.
If you have cervical kyphosis or think you may have it, the first step is to schedule a consultation with one of the spine care specialists at The Spine Center. Once you do, you’ll have peace of mind knowing that your neck deformity may soon be a thing of the past!
Your Experienced Spine Care Team in Chicago
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, delivered with honesty and integrity. We have a solid 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 and non-operative treatment, along with sophisticated, customized surgical solutions. Our physicians serve as innovators and are at the forefront of medical knowledge. 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.