Adult Scoliosis: A Guide
What Is Adult Scoliosis?
All spines have a natural curve, but a curve in the wrong direction (sideways) is known as scoliosis.
The spine’s curve may be as mild as 10 degrees or as severe as 100 degrees or more, occurring with or without pain.
Scoliosis that develops or is diagnosed after puberty is referred to as adult scoliosis, though it could be a continuation of previously undiagnosed adolescent scoliosis.
What Are the Causes of Adult Scoliosis?
Most cases of adult scoliosis are idiopathic, meaning there is no known reason for the scoliosis developing.
A congenital curve is one that you were born with. It may not have been visible or severe enough for treatment as a child, but could get worse over time due to normal wear and tear around the spine.
Paralytic curve and myopathic deformity are similar in that they both mean that the muscles are not working. Weak muscles around the spine can throw it out of balance, causing a twist.
Paralytic curve is caused by and injury to the spine that results in paralysis, whereas myopathic deformity is due to an existing muscular or neuromuscular disease such as muscular dystrophy or cerebral palsy.
Scoliosis in adults can also be a secondary cause of a degenerative disease that affect the vertebrae, such as osteoporosis, or develop after a previous spinal surgery.
What Are the Symptoms of Adult Scoliosis?
While there may be a visible deformity in the back, it is usually lower back pain that signals to a patient that there is something wrong.
The pain is not from the curve itself, but from the degeneration that occurs as a result of the imbalance. Leg pain may also occur as a result of pressure on the nerves.
How Is Adult Scoliosis Diagnosed?
If your doctor suspects that you have scoliosis, you will be referred to a spinal specialist. While there, you will give a full history, including family history, when your pain started, changes in motor function, and any previous spinal surgeries.
The specialist then performs a physical examination by observing the curve while you move around and taking measurements of any visible deformity. Your sensation and reflexes will also be tested.
Afterwards, X-rays will be ordered so the specialist can see the structure of the spine and measure the curve. Depending on the results, and MRI or CT scan may also be ordered.
Treatment for Adult Scoliosis
Many cases of adult scoliosis are mild and do not require treatment. Treatment is not related to the severity of the curve, but to the amount of pain experienced.
Some treatment options include:
- Regular observation
- Over the counter pain medications
- Exercises and/or physical therapy
- Braces for support and pain relief
- Chiropractic care: While chiropractic care cannot reverse or cure scoliosis, patients experience pain relief due to the relaxation of muscles and increased mobility in the joints, as well as improved posture.
- Epidural or nerve block
- Surgery: Spinal surgery is risky, and is used as a last resort for extreme cases that do not respond to conservative treatments.
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