You may associate scoliosis with children and teenagers, but did you know that scoliosis can develop in adults, as well? In fact, adult scoliosis is quite common.
What is Adult Scoliosis?
Scoliosis, whether in an adult or child, is a condition in which the spine is abnormally curved. When viewed from the front or back, a healthy spine should form a relatively straight line, or an “I” shape. Spines affected by scoliosis have more of an “S” or a “C” shape, which can lead to alignment problems and subsequent musculoskeletal discomfort. However, many cases of adult scoliosis are mild and may not produce any obvious symptoms.
Doctors use medical terms to describe how an adult may have developed scoliosis:
- Congenital – Present at birth but not detected until adulthood
- Idiopathic – Resulting from an unidentified cause
- Myopathic – Resulting from muscular or neuromuscular disease, such as muscular dystrophy or cerebral palsy
- Paralytic – Caused by paralysis resulting from a spinal injury
- Secondary – Developed in response to other spinal disorders, such as degenerative disc disease or osteoporosis
You probably don’t have an X-ray machine at home, so it’s hard to be certain that your spine is abnormally curved without visiting a doctor. With that said, there are a few physical signs of adult scoliosis that you can see with the naked eye:
- A shoulder blade that is slightly higher than the other
- One hip that appears raised or more prominent
- Head that is not centered directly above the pelvis
- Sides of the rib cages that are at different heights
- Clothing that no longer seems to “hang right” on the body; dresses and pants that appear longer on one side than the other
Be sure to make an appointment with your doctor if you notice any of these potential indicators of scoliosis.
How is Adult Scoliosis Diagnosed?
If your doctor suspects you have scoliosis, he or she may use diagnostic tools such as digital X-ray imaging, computed tomography (CT scans) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to view the spine in detail. From there, the extent of the spinal curvature is measured in degrees using the Cobb Method. Curves that are less than 25 degrees are usually considered mild, while curves greater than 45 degrees are viewed as severe and may require surgical care.
How is Adult Scoliosis Treated?
Unlike children who have growing, malleable bones, adults have mature, hardened bones that are more difficult to realign. That’s why the goal of adult scoliosis treatment is often to help patients manage their symptoms and return to the activities they enjoy as safely as possible, rather than fixing the misalignment itself. Doctors often recommend a combination of nonsurgical therapies such as medication, gentle exercise, physical therapy, and bracing to relieve pain and discomfort caused by scoliosis.
In the event that your adult scoliosis symptoms do not respond to nonsurgical therapies, you may be a candidate for surgery. Your doctor may suggest surgical treatment if:
- Your pain is debilitating
- Your curve has contributed to the development of other disorders, like spinal stenosis
- Your curve continues to worsen, increasing the risk of more serious symptoms
- Your curve has caused noticeable deformity and decreased self-confidence
- Your curve is impacting your ability to walk and function as you normally would
There are several traditional and minimally invasive spinal surgeries that can be performed to correct abnormal curvatures, prevent them from worsening, or relieve compression on the spinal nerves.
Despite recent improvements in the invasiveness of spinal procedures, the decision to undergo surgery for adult scoliosis should not be taken lightly. Take the time to share all of your concerns with your doctor, who will be happy to answer your questions and help you make an informed and confident decision about your spinal health.
Florida Medical Orthopaedics, Sports Medicine & Spine is proud to serve families in Tampa and Wesley Chapel, Florida.