Houston Methodist. Leading Medicine

Upper Spine FAQ

Question:

I had a back problem as a kid they called Scheuermann's disease. Is that disease still around or have they cured it like polio? I never hear anything about it.

Answer:

Yes, Scheuermann's disease is around. Some reports say that less than one percent of the U.S. population is affected. But there are other reports of an incidence up to 8.3 per cent. The disease occurs mostly in children between the ages of 10 and 12. But there are some cases in which Scheuermann's develops in the adult years. Scheuermann's disease (also called Scheuermann's kyphosis) is named after the physician who first described the condition. It is an excess of thoracic kyphosis (when viewed from the side, this is a C-shaped curvature of the mid-back). The section of spine from below the neck to the bottom of the rib cage is called the thoracic spine. From the side, the thoracic spine appears slightly rounded. Its shape is like the letter "C" with the opening facing the front of the body. This normal curve is called kyphosis. With excessive kyphosis, the thoracic spine takes on a hunchbacked appearance. With Scheuermann's kyphosis, there is wedging of five-degrees or more affecting at least three consecutive vertebrae. The structural changes that form this type of hyper-kyphosis are seen on X-rays. The cause of this type of wedging deformity remains a mystery. During normal growth, the cartilage around the vertebral body changes evenly and completely to bone. If the change from cartilage to bone doesn't happen evenly, one side of the vertebral body grows at a faster rate. By the time the entire vertebral body turns to bone, one side is taller than the other. This is the wedge shape that leads to abnormal kyphosis. Dr. Scheuermann thought a lack of blood to the cartilage around the vertebral body caused the wedging. Though scientists have since disproved this theory, the root cause of the disease is still unknown. Current theories include osteoporosis as a cause, mechanical factors (abnormal biomechanical stresses on the bones), and/or tight hamstring muscles (along the back of the thigh). Above-average disc height, increased levels of growth hormone, and genetics have also been suggested as possible contributing factors/causes. Although Scheuermann's doesn't affect a large number of children, it remains on the medical "radar" so-to-speak. It is a condition that will continue to be studied in order to understand its causes and effects. As with anything that develops in children, efforts are directed toward prevention first and treatment for those affected. Kirkham B. Wood, MD, et al. Adult Scheuermann Kyphosis: Evaluation, Management, and New Developments. In Journal of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. February 2012. Vol. 20. No. 2. Pp. 113-121.

*Disclaimer:* The information contained herein is compiled from a variety of sources. It may not be complete or timely. It does not cover all diseases, physical conditions, ailments or treatments. The information should NOT be used in place of visit with your healthcare provider, nor should you disregard the advice of your health care provider because of any information you read in this topic.
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