Scheuermann’s Disease: Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis, and Treatment

Kyphosis is a spinal condition in which an overly pronounced curve in the mid-back (thoracic spine). Scheuermann’s disease is a kind of kyphosis that affects between 0.5% and 8% of the population and is more common in males than females. This condition presents as triangular, wedge-shaped vertebrae that cause the thoracic spine to curve forward too much.

Medicine Doctor Examining MRI Scan On Light Box In Hospital. He is wearing white lab coat and pointing to cat scan image. Indoors of a real hospital. Shot with full frame DSLR camera representing Scheuermann's disease.

What causes Scheuermann’s disease?

This type of kyphosis develops during bone growth — often in puberty. This is when the back of the spine develops faster than the front of the spine. Which can cause an otherwise healthy vertebrae to become triangular in shape and wedge together. Spine specialists do not know exactly why this happens. However, though it does appear to be genetic and perhaps related to height and weight. Scheuermann disease is often with other spinal problems. In addition, with conditions like juvenile osteoporosis, endocrine disorders, infection, and a shortened sternum.

What are the symptoms?

Back pain in the mid- and upper-back is the most obvious symptom, and the pain can sometimes lead to restricted movement, like difficulty bending forward or backward. Because this condition often occurs in children, parents are likely to bring their son or daughter to a spine specialist with complaints of slouching or poor posture. In rare cases, a patient may experience chest pain or labored breathing due to decreased lung capacity.

Diagnosis of Scheuermann’s disease

A doctor will first conduct a physical examination, testing the patient’s range of motion and looking for a pronounced curve in the thoracic spine as the patient bends forward at the waist. For a definitive diagnosis, the patient will have x-rays taken. Scheuermann disease is diagnosed if the spine has:

  • A kyphotic curve of 50 degrees or greater
  • Vertebrae (three or more) that are tight together by at least five degrees
  • Disc herniations through the Schmorl’s nodes (endplates of the vertebrae)

How do you treat Scheuermann’s disease?

Fortunately, with the proper treatment, the pain associated with this condition will subside. Hopefully then the patient can return to normal activities, including sports. To reduce inflammation and discomfort, a spine specialist will recommend ice therapy, electrotherapy, acupuncture, or soft tissue massage. Once the swelling is down, a patient can begin physiotherapy to restore range of motion and increase strength. Non-surgical options are usually sufficient, though in cases of severe deformity, a specialist might recommend surgery, particularly if the spine has a curvature of more than 75 degrees or the vertebrae wedging is progressing rapidly.

It’s important to note the difference between Scheuermann’s disease and postural kyphosis. The latter is characterized by curvature with no abnormalities of the vertebrae and is relieved when the patient is lying on down. However, if you are suffering back pain and/or believe you may have Scheuermann’s disease, reach out to Moreno Spine and Scoliosis today.

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