Scheuermann's Disease: Can You Recognize It?

Scheuermann's disease (or juvenile kyphosis) is a structural defect of the spine presenting with characteristic excessive curvature of the back at chest height. It usually manifests in adolescence, typically before age 15. The risk is nearly 5 times higher in men.

The early stages can be difficult to distinguish from simple poor posture. A definitive diagnosis can be made by an orthopedist from an x-ray scan. Untreated, Scheuermann's disease can be painful and cause permanent spinal deformity. However, most cases are discovered in time and treated successfully

Origins of Scheuermann’s Disease

The first symptoms of Scheuermann’s disease typically appear in adolescence. At this time, people grow by about 5% of their total height in less than 6 months. This rapid growth puts a lot of strain on the spine, and growth disorders may manifest.

Orthopedist Pavel Poštulka says in this interview (in Czech): “(…) there is a mismatch between increasing height and weight on the one hand, and the spine’s structural integrity and ability to bear the increased loads on the other. When the biological structure of a tissue is inadequate to the strain being put on it, various kinds of deformity may appear.”

The precise causative mechanism of Scheuermann’s disease remains unknown. Suggested causes include rapid growth, lack of vitamin C, and genetic predisposition.

Experts recommend exercises like yoga to combat the muscle shortening occurring in Scheuermann’s disease.

Symptoms of Scheuermann’s Disease

The early stages of Scheuermann’s disease are easily mistaken for simple poor posture, with hunched back and shoulders drawn forward. This stage of the disease is painless, and early diagnosis and treatment can resolve the problem without lasting consequences.

Tip: Treatment of Scheuermann’s disease mostly consists of exercise. However, healthy sitting also plays a role, as it reduces spinal loading. Your back will benefit from investment in a quality therapeutic chair.

Telling poor posture apart from Scheuermann’s can be made easier by lying prone on a level surface. If it’s only poor posture, the spine will straighten into its normal shape, while a spine affected by Scheuermann’s disease will remain bent.

Definitive diagnosis is made by an orthopedist from an X-ray image.

Definitive diagnosis of Scheuermann’s disease is by X-ray.

Exercises for Scheuermann’s Disease

Any physical activity is helpful, but activities that stretch the spine and pectorals are best. Many experts recommend yoga. Sports and other physical strain is only to be avoided in the florid (active) stage, when the deformation advances rapidly. The condition’s stage can be determined by your physician.

Physical therapists from the FYZIOklinika physical therapy center in Prague (link in Czech) recommend the exercise below for pectoral stretching.

“An essential part of this exercise is maintaining the proper length of muscle activation and relaxation. The muscles should be active for about 20 seconds, and relaxed for at least 40 second. Don’t do more than three repetitions in a row,” cautions physical therapist Mgr. Kateřina Klimešová.

Further Reading

Mgr. Kateřina Klimešová

I am a physical therapist with over 10 years of experience, specializing in spine and spinal cord injuries. I am also a Nordic walking instructor accredited by the Czech Ministry of Education, and personal physical therapist to the current Czech champion and Czech indoor record holder in disability shot put.

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