Congenital kyphosis is a form of abnormal spinal curvature which develops in the fetal stages of life, prior to birth. When a baby is growing inside the womb, the spine is formed in the shape of a letter C, since the cervical and lumbar curvatures are secondary and develop after birth. In some cases, small and often unnoticeable changes in the fetal spinal anatomy set the stage for abnormal spinal curvature issues later in life. Some irregular congenital curvatures are easily recognized prior to birth, while others may not be discovered until as late as the teenage years.
Most congenital conditions involve spinal hyperkyphosis, in which the curvature is larger than normal. However, a minority of cases may involve hypokyphosis, where the spine does not develop a primary thoracic curvature at all.
This essay explores atypical kyphotic changes which begin prior to birth, as well as investigating the causes and effects of abnormal prebirth kyphosis.
There is no known universal cause for abnormal congenital spinal curvature that results in exaggerated or underdeveloped kyphosis. There are theoretic links to various genetic markers, as well as lifestyle and health-related issues affecting the birthmother. However, no singular causation applies to all cases.
Some cases of congenital spinal curvature may go completely unnoticed for many years and do not really begin to show themselves until the growth spurt associated with adolescence. Other cases will appear immediately upon imaging, at birth or in early infantile development.
Science has ruled the majority of atypical kyphotic curvatures which develop during the fetal stages to be idiopathic.
Atypical kyphosis is not generally a problematic or painful condition, in most cases. Minor to moderate cases should not become major health issues and some patients will never even know that they have a slightly abnormal thoracic curvature. Severe and extreme cases of hyperkyphosis can be painful and may present special health hazards, especially to the internal organs, such as the heart and lungs. These organs can suffer compression from the rib cage, or other structures, since the anatomy develops without enough room in the chest cavity.
If the spine bends too far forward, normal physical functionality will be affected, including balance and mobility. Since the center of gravity may be significantly changed, many patients will not have the same degree of physical prowess, even if they do not suffer any other ill effects.
It is vital to always do everything possible to ensure that any child has the best chance for normal development.
For pregnant women, eating right, exercising conservatively and avoiding any of the many risk factors that increase the risk of congenital defects, such as drugs, smoking and alcohol, will help minimize the chances of having a child with any atypical birth condition, including congenital hyperkyphosis. If your child is affected with an exaggerated or deficient thoracic spinal curvature, immediately consult a specialist, since treatment may or may not be necessary.
The only real therapeutic hope for serious and potentially debilitating cases of thoracic hyperkyphosis is drastic spinal fusion surgery. This treatment approach is obviously very risky and should only be considered as a final option for the most extreme of cases. However, in many patients, the postoperative results of spondylodesis are still a massive improvement compared to the natural state of their spinal curvatures.