Both kyphosis and scoliosis refer to curvatures or deformities of the spine. Put simply, kyphosis is a forward curvature of the spine, giving the appearance of a hunchback. Scoliosis is a lateral curvature in which the spine curves to the side in either direction. These conditions may be found independently of each other, but when they occur together, it is known as kyphoscoliosis. This would be seen as both a forward and lateral curve of the spine.
Kyphosis and scoliosis are two fairly common conditions of the spine; they may be congenital and appear at birth, or they may appear over time, typically in adolescence. Scoliosis is slightly more common than kyphosis, and though kyphosis may be found in people of either sex, it is somewhat more common in men. A kyphotic curve is often seen in older people who are suffering from osteoporosis, though this is not truly kyphosis.
There are a few different types of both kyphosis and scoliosis, which must be determined by a doctor. For example, kyphosis may be either postural or structural. Postural kyphosis occurs frequently in teenagers who simply practice poor posture; the spine appears to be curved from the outside of the body, but x-rays will reveal that it is structurally normal. This can generally be corrected with physical therapy exercises. Structural kyphosis occurs when an actual deformity occurs in the spinal cord; in Scheuermann's kyphosis, for example, the individual vertebrae of the spine are wedge-shaped, causing the spine to round.
One of the main differences between kyphosis and scoliosis is seen in the treatment options for the conditions. Bracing is commonly used in treating both kyphosis and scoliosis, but in kyphosis it is generally only effective in preventing the progression of the curve, not reducing a curve that already exists. Conversely, bracing to treat scoliosis can be effective at reducing the curve. Physical therapy is also often used to increase flexibility in the spine, to strengthen the supporting muscles of the spine, and to reduce any pain caused by the condition.
For extreme cases, surgery may be performed to correct the conditions. The type of surgery will vary depending on the structural issues and desired outcome, though spinal fusion surgery with or without instrumentation is common. Any questions about the diagnosis or treatment of these conditions should be directed to a doctor, since it will only be possible to diagnose kyphosis and scoliosis through examining an x-ray.