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How Physical Therapy Helps Teens With Scheuermann’s Kyphosis

A Gillette patient with kyphosis rides his bike.

Scheuermann’s disease, also known as Scheuermann’s kyphosis, is a condition where a child’s spine has too much of a curve. This typically happens during periods of accelerated growth or puberty. For girls, this can occur between the ages of 8 and 13. For boys, it can be from ages 10 to 15. 

Both the front and the back of the spine need to grow at the same speed. If the front of the spine doesn’t grow at the same rate as the back of the spine, the vertebrae becomes wedge-shaped. This causes the middle of the spine to curve forward, which results in a rounded or stooped posture. 

We currently do not know the cause of Scheuermann’s disease, but it does appear to run in families. Some patients develop scoliosis as a result. Common symptoms include fatigue, back pain, loss of flexibility and slouching. In the most severe cases, it can affect a child’s breathing and spinal cord. It also puts a child at a higher risk for arthritis down the road. 

After A Diagnosis, Proper Treatment Can Begin 

Similar to other medical conditions, getting a proper diagnosis is key. Some schools provide annual scoliosis screenings, which is where it sometimes is first noticed. Other times, a child or their parent will notice the curve of their spine.  

After making an appointment with your healthcare provider, they will perform a number of tests. During the physical exam, your child will be asked to perform the “Adam’s forward bend test”. They will bend forward with their feet together, knees straight and arms hanging freely. It helps your child’s provider analyze the spine. An x-ray may also be needed to see just how curved the spine already is. 

The good news is that after a diagnosis, kyphosis treatment options are available. Gillette Children’s is comprised of a world-renowned team who are pioneers in their field. Working together, we will do everything we can to ease pain and address concerns. 

A Gillette patient talks with his doctor.

Physical Therapy Is A Key Part Of Healing 

So, the big question is: how can kyphosis be corrected? Physical therapy is one of the best ways to strengthen muscles and improve flexibility. As a result, this can help manage pain. Used in tandem with other methods such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medicines, children have reported improvement when sitting, standing and participating in activities. 

In some cases, bracing may also be useful. Depending on the specifics of your child’s diagnosis, they will be required to wear a brace made specifically for their body for a certain number of hours during the day or overnight. Again, physical therapy is a crucial part of this process. Exercise will maximize the effect the brace has on the body, as well as strengthen the muscles. 

While it is rarely done, surgery is another option. In cases where the pain is too severe or the curve of the spine is putting pressure on the spinal cord, however, it might be necessary. Some families also have requested surgery because their child is suffering from emotional distress due to their hunched-over appearance. Posterior fusion and combined fusion are the two common procedures used to treat kyphosis.  

After surgery, healthcare providers once again recommend rest and physical therapy. One of Gillette’s physical therapists will help your child start moving and learn how to do everyday activities without putting extra strain on their back. Core stability exercises and gentle back range of motion movements are most beneficial. 

Proper Care All In One Place 

After a Scheuermann’s kyphosis diagnosis, physical therapy can strengthen muscles in the back and abdomen to help with pain management, posture and flexibility. It is truly a group effort made by your child and their team of providers.  

One of the biggest benefits of receiving care at Gillette Children’s is the fact that you have access to doctors and nurses from all different fields in one place. Our orthopedics team, orthotics team, radiology and imaging team, rehabilitation therapy team and physical therapy team are all here to work together with you, your child and your family. 

A Gillette patient smiles by his bike.