Military neck, or cervical kyphosis, is a rare condition that involves an abnormal curvature of the cervical spine, or neck. It can lead to severe disability and reduced quality of life.

The natural curvature of the spine is important for maintaining posture and balance. If one of the curves in the spine becomes too great or small, people may have difficulty standing up straight.

Keep reading for pictures of military neck and to learn about causes and possible treatments.

Some causes of military neck include:

  • poor posture during childhood
  • abnormally shaped vertebrae
  • developmental problems with the spine

General wear and tear of the bones, ligaments, and vertebral discs can cause military neck. People may develop the condition if the vertebrae in the neck become weak and fragile.

Some conditions that may cause military neck include:

People with military neck typically experience neck pain and some sensory and motor deficits due to compression of the spinal cord.

Common symptoms of military neck include:

  • mild back pain
  • fatigue
  • spine stiffness
  • weakness
  • numbness
  • loss of sensation
  • shortness of breath

People with military neck may also have difficulty moving around, swallowing, and breathing.

Loss of horizontal gaze is another complication of military neck, where a person has trouble looking straight ahead.

The most severe presentation of military neck is a chin-to-chest deformity, or dropped head syndrome. This occurs when the person’s chin sits on their chest.

Before a doctor sets a treatment plan, they must understand the cause of the spinal deformity and determine its severity.


One possible treatment option for military neck is surgery. The goals of surgery are:

  1. To restore the curvature of the cervical spine to align with the rest of the spine.
  2. To decompress the spinal cord and nerve roots.
  3. To restore a person’s horizontal gaze.
  4. To achieve an appropriate fusion of vertebrae to reduce neck pain.
  5. To normalize the slope of the first thoracic vertebra.

Surgeons will approach the operation differently, depending on the location of the deformity and its severity.

The surgeon may need to operate on the front or back of the cervical spine to correct the alignment. In some situations, the surgeon may need to operate on both sides.

One type of surgery that surgeons often chose to treat military neck is osteotomy. This procedure involves the removal of bone or a piece of bone.

An alternative is vertebral fixation or fusion. This approach involves the use of screws and plates to fix the vertebrae in place.

Cervical traction

Another technique that surgeons may use is cervical traction. The idea behind cervical traction is to widen the spaces between the vertebrae.

Cervical traction can help relieve the pressure on the nerve roots and lessen the symptoms of compression. It may also help relax the muscles in the neck.

Cervical traction may involve a person wearing a kind of neck brace or resting the chin upright on a type of sling. The names or some of these methods are:

  • over-the-door technique
  • mechanical cervical traction
  • manual cervical traction

All these methods involve applying pressure on the neck to help relieve the compression in the cervical spine that is causing military neck.

A therapist can explain the best of these options for an individual, as well as what they involve.

Doctors may apply traction for about 7 days to achieve the right extension and decompression of the vertebrae.

Military neck is unlikely to improve without surgery if cervical traction is not successful.

To diagnose military neck, the doctor will observe the person to see if there are visible signs of deformity or abnormality in their posture. They will also take a full medical history to determine the cause of the abnormal spine alignment.

The doctor may test a person’s balance and flexibility to detect signs of military neck.

Sometimes, the deformity is not obvious, and doctors will need X-ray or CT scans to diagnose a person with military neck.

Doctors will ask if the person has had surgery on their spine or cervical spine in the past, as this may help them develop an appropriate treatment plan.

Military neck is a rare disorder of the natural curvature of the spine that can cause severe disability in some people.

People can develop military neck during childhood or adulthood. Some diseases may cause military neck, including cancers of the spine and osteoporosis.

Typical symptoms of military neck include neck pain, numbness, and limited movement in the neck. In severe cases, some people may experience difficulty swallowing or breathing.

A doctor can diagnose military neck with physical assessments and imaging techniques, such as X-rays.

One nonsurgical treatment for military neck is cervical traction. If this does not work, surgery is usually the next option.