Understanding the Different Types of Adult Spine Deformities

Understanding the Different Types of Adult Spine Deformities

When you think of spinal deformities, you may think of scoliosis — most commonly, scoliosis that occurs in kids and teens whose backs develop a curve as they grow. 

But spinal deformities can affect adults, too, causing pain and other symptoms that can have a marked impact on your mobility, activity, and quality of life.

David Chang, MD-PhD, DABNS, is skilled in treating adult spine deformities including three of the most common issues: kyphosis, lordosis, and degenerative scoliosis. 

Here’s what he wants patients at his practice in Roseville, Minnesota, to know about the symptoms of these problems and how they’re treated.


Sometimes unflatteringly referred to as a hump, kyphosis causes your upper back (or thoracic spine) to curve, creating a rounded, humped appearance. Kyphosis happens in people who have osteoporosis, a weakening of the bones that occurs with age.

Osteoporosis makes your spine more prone to tiny compression fractures, small fractures or breaks that occur as the bones weaken. Some fractures occur during a fall, but many people with osteoporosis develop compression fractures from simple movements, like twisting, bending, or even coughing.

Kyphosis can make it difficult to lie flat or stand up straight. In more severe cases, the curvature can interfere with your lungs, making it harder to breathe.


Lordosis is a spine deformity that causes an inward curve in your lower back (the lumbar spine). You may have heard lordosis called by its (rather unflattering) nickname, “swayback.”

Like many adult spine deformities, lordosis can be associated with age-related changes like arthritis or osteoporosis, with other spine conditions, or even with obesity. 

Lordosis can cause pain when lifting or bending, and it may also cause pain in other weight-bearing joints, like your knees.

Degenerative scoliosis

While scoliosis in adolescents and teens typically is the result of a problem with how the spine is developing, degenerative scoliosis is caused by age-related changes in your spine. 

As you get older, your spinal discs become compressed, and the ligaments connecting your spine bones to each other can shrink and thicken, subjecting your spine to uneven stress. Any (or all) of these changes can result in a sideways curve to your spine. 

Less commonly, you may develop scoliosis following an injury.

Scoliosis symptoms typically affect your thoracic or lumbar spine. As your spine curves, nerves may become irritated or pinched, which means you could have pain and other symptoms in your arms or legs as well as in your back.

Treating spine deformities

Spine deformities can cause painful symptoms, but fortunately, we can treat many of these problems conservatively with nonsurgical options. 

Before prescribing any treatment, Dr. Chang orders diagnostic imaging to gain a detailed view of your spine’s structure. Lab tests can also help provide a complete picture of your spine health, along with a review of your symptoms, your lifestyle habits, and your medical history.

Depending on the results of your evaluation, your treatment plan could include:

Most people benefit from a combination of therapies, with adjustments made as your symptoms evolve or improve.

For more severe issues or if these options don’t help relieve your pain, Dr. Chang may recommend surgery to address problems with your discs, spinal nerves, or vertebrae (your spine bones). 

Dr. Chang is a complex spine neurosurgeon, so if surgery is the best option for your health and wellness, you can feel confident that he’ll recommend an approach ideally suited to your lifestyle, your overall health, and your treatment goals.

Relief for your nagging back pain

Spine deformity can be a surprisingly common cause of back pain, even if you don’t notice a curvature yourself.

To find out what’s causing your spine-related problems, call us at 651-219-7322 or book an appointment online with Dr. Chang today.

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