Camptocormia is a condition in which the torso is bent forward in an extreme and abnormal position. It is thought to involve the muscles which extend the spine and usually there are no other symptoms apart from back discomfort, which only occurs in some patients. The abnormal spine position normally increases when walking or standing but disappears when a person lies down. Camptocormia is associated with a number of different disorders, including Parkinson's disease and Tourette's syndrome.
The name camptocormia was thought to have been invented by Alexandre-Achille Souques, a neurologist from France, to describe the posture of soldiers moving through the trenches of World War I in a bent forward position. Before it received a name, the abnormal posture had been recognized as early as 1818, by an English surgeon called Brodie. At first, doctors thought that the disorder was caused by damage to the vertebrae, combined with a hysterical reaction from the patient, but the problem is no longer thought to have a psychological cause.
It is known that diseases which affect nerves and muscles can lead to camptocormia. The condition is seen in some dystonic disorders. In dystonic disorders, muscles appear to contract by themselves, either individually or in groups, causing a person to take up odd positions or to move in a repetitive way.
Camptocormia can be a feature of Parkinson's disease, with more than 10 percent of patients experiencing this unusual flexion of the spine. Parkinson's disease is a disorder which progressively worsens and in which patients experience symptoms of slow movement, rigid muscles and walking difficulties. Doctors are not sure whether camptocormia is an extreme version of the stooped posture that develops in Parkinson's, and they are unsure whether the condition is more likely to be associated with severe Parkinson's disease.
Whatever the cause, most patients do not experience any camptocormia symptoms apart from the abnormal posture but, in some cases, the lower back can be painful. There is no effective camptocormia treatment but a variety of therapies, including surgery, drugs and physiotherapy, have been tried. A few patients have shown improvement with steroid drugs. The procedure known as deep brain stimulation has appeared promising in research trials and may develop into a reliable treatment in the future. In deep brain stimulation, a device similar to a pacemaker is implanted under the skin of the chest and this sends electrical impulses through a wire to some areas of the brain.