FAQ’s on Adult Scoliosis
What is Adult Scoliosis?
Adult scoliosis is defined as a spine that is curved more than 10 degrees in an individual over the age of 18. There are two categories adult scoliosis is divided into: adult idiopathic scoliosis (also known as congenital scoliosis) and adult degenerative scoliosis (also known as acquired scoliosis). Scoliosis is divided into these categories based on how the patient is affected by their spinal curve.
What are the causes of Adult Scoliosis?
In idiopathic scoliosis, the spinal curve has been present since the patient was a teen or child, but had not yet produced significant enough symptoms to warrant treatment. In some patients, scoliosis may have been identified during these years but not have been severe enough for the physician to diagnose. In many cases, the minor curve that was left alone during the child or teenage years will increase over time until the point it begins to cause symptoms for adults.
With degenerative scoliosis, the spinal curve develops entirely in adulthood, with a number of potential causes. Degenerative spinal curves result most often from degenerative spinal conditions such as disc degeneration. With disc degeneration, if one side of the disc deflates more rapidly than the other it can cause the spine to curve in this location. As this curves form, gravity and further degeneration will continue to pull the spine into this direction.
What are the symptoms of Adult Scoliosis?
The symptoms of both categories of scoliosis gradually worsen over time. The severity of the symptoms will vary based on how long a curve has been present, with specific symptoms only occurring in severe curves (greater than 30 degrees). The most common symptom experienced by patients is back pain, typically localized to the location of the curve and radiating out from that central point. In severe curves, there may be a visible deformity at the location of the curve such as a prominence or hump on the back. Spinal scoliosis can also result in occurrences of spinal stenosis in the patient, which is a narrowing of the spinal canal resulting in pressure placed on the spinal cord.
Extreme curves of the spine (greater than 80 degrees) can infringe on the function of the lungs, resulting in shortness of breath in some patients. Patients with severe or extreme curves may also be forced to change their posture to cope for the curve, and may change their walking gait as well.
How is Adult Scoliosis diagnosed?
In patients who believe they are suffering from a spinal curve, diagnosis is as easy as a clinical exam with an X-ray component. X-rays are the single most reliable method of both determining of there is a curve present, and on measuring the severity of a curve that is found. If patients are experiencing symptomatic pains in their arms or legs, an MRI may also be preformed to examine for compression of a spinal nerve root.
What are the treatment options for Adult Scoliosis?
The exact tools available for treatment will vary based on the unique case of the patient, as not every spinal curve is exactly the same. In patients where the symptoms are very minor, there may be no treatment performed. Patients with moderate symptoms of back pain will likely receive physical therapy to help strength the surrounding muscles of the spine to better support it and reduce curvature.
Patients with symptoms of both back pain and leg pain may be subject to pain-relieving injections. If lumbar stenosis is present, spinal decompression therapy may be advised to avoid surgery. Some patients may require decompression surgery (removal of the damaged disc). In cases where curvature of the spine exceeds 30 degrees, a spinal fusion may be advised.