So, what is Scheuermann’s Kyphosis?
Scheuermann’s Kyphosis or Scheuermann’s Disease refers to a condition that affects a young person’s vertebrae (the bones that make up the spine) where – for an unknown reason – they grow unevenly, causing an abnormal curvature of the spine. As well as the abnormal curvature, affected vertebrae may have schmorl’s nodes, which are protrusions of vertebral matter that appear as dimples on the vertebrae.
Scheuermann’s Kyphosis tends to affect the thoracic – or upper – spine, but it is also less commonly found in the lumbar – lower – spine, or the cervical spine (the neck). My curve is in the thoracic spine, but is apparently positioned higher than typical Scheuermann’s curves.
My curvature measured over 70 degrees the last time it was officially measured, but may well have increased since. Anything above 45 degrees is considered ‘abnormal’, and due to the positioning and degree of my curve it falls into the ‘moderate-severe’ category.
What are the symptoms?
My Scheuermann’s was diagnosed at the age of 13, as my parents noticed increasingly rounded shoulders where my spine had a ‘hunchback’ appearance (I hate that term, but for descriptive purposes it’ll have to do). Although in retrospect I must admit I did have pain, I always put this down to carrying heavy schoolbags. However, this pain hasn’t ever gone away, and affects almost all of my back. Due to the abnormal curvature, my neck and lower back have to compensate, and so I not only have pain around the apex of my curve, but also in my lower back and neck. I experience several types of pain. The first is facet joint pain in the spine, which appears as an intense burning deep ache. This can be particularly bad when I sit or stand for periods of longer than half an hour. The second type of pain tends to occur all the time, and is muscular pain across my shoulders, up my neck, and – when at its most severe – down my arms. This is like muscle cramping, and can be felt as a dull ache or sharp pinch, particularly when the muscles around my shoulder blades cramp up. Thirdly I experience neuropathic – or nerve – pain, which isn’t quite like pain at all; it feels more like burning or as if someone is running icy cold water down the affected area. I feel this pain in a strip across the middle of my back, and it’s fairly unpredictable. As you can probably gather, I need to have a good pain management regimen to combat this.
What are the treatment options?
Fairly soon after I was diagnosed, I was first given a boston brace and then a more form-fitting brace to help reduce the progression of the curvature. This had to be worn 23 hours a day (where the remaining hour accounted for PE classes or showering etc). These braces were made of thick, rigid plastic, and restricted my movement. They had to be fastened tightly and often rubbed at my skin, bruising my hips and other bony parts. I found them extremely uncomfortable to sleep in, and often found I had pulled them off in the middle of the night. I didn’t use my braces for that long as I found them unbearably painful and uncomfortable, but some people find they provide a great deal of benefit in reducing curve progression, particularly if worn when young and when the spine is still developing. I have been offered a spinal fusion several times, and though I have been lucky enough not to need one (my spine is actually in fairly good shape despite the curvature) it might have to be something I think about doing in the future. I have had various pain management sessions, and try to manage my chronic back pain with several types of analgesia, keeping mobile, steroid injections, acupuncture and heat therapy. I tend to have ‘good’ days and ‘bad’ days, and am often fairly fatigued. Spinal curvatures are commonly found in people with cerebral palsy, and some medical professionals think this is due to the difference in muscle tone (see Cerebral Palsy page for more info).
To find posts discussing my experiences of Scheuermann’s Kyphosis, type into the search bar to search my previous posts.