Symptoms of scoliosis most commonly become apparent just before puberty–but that doesn’t mean adults can’t be affected. Sometimes, undiagnosed scoliosis can fail to resolve itself during puberty, leading to pain and other issues in adults. More rarely, scoliosis can develop in adults. Here’s what grown-ups need to know about this condition.
What it is
Scoliosis is an abnormal curvature of the spine. It’s usually idiopathic, meaning in most cases there is no known cause, but can be caused by neuromuscular disorders, abnormal fetal development, uneven legs, and has been correlated with exercise, poor posture and other behavioral factors. It’s more likely to become serious in women, and more likely in those with a close family member suffering from the condition.
The same visual cues that are used to spot scoliosis in children may be present in adults, i.e. uneven shoulders, one shoulder blade or hip being much more prominent than the other, head not centered above the spine, etc. The one that tends to bring grown-ups to the waiting room, however, is less common in kids–back pain. Back pain can be caused by many conditions, some of which may be present along with scoliosis. A standard examination can spot more severe or developed cases of scoliosis, while an MRI can help identify milder cases.
Medication: Medication can treat the painful symptoms of scoliosis. Usually, over the counter painkillers, such as ibuprofen, is the first line of defense, followed by prescribed painkillers if necessary. Local anesthetic or corticosteroid injections may also be used as a short-term solution. If bone degeneration caused by osteoporosis is contributing the back pain, bone strengthening medications, vitamins, and supplements may also be prescribed.
Exercise: Often, exercise is prescribed as a means of helping patients control their weight, which in turn can lessen the stress on their backs–an important step to keep from exacerbating the condition. Corrective exercises to correct weaknesses or imbalances contributing to the development of scoliosis may also be helpful.
Braces and Other Medical Devices: Back braces are occasionally prescribed for adults with scoliosis. Lifts may be used to help in cases where uneven leg lengths are contributing to the condition’s development.
Surgery: Surgery is recommended only for very severe cases of scoliosis. There are two kinds of surgery used to treat most cases of adult scoliosis: decompression surgery, and spinal fusion surgery. Decompression surgery is used to remove a disk or bone pressing down on a nerve. Spinal fusion surgery is used to improve the shape of the spine using rods, plates, screws, and later, bone grafts.
The Advanced Orthopedics and Sports Medicine Institute offers comprehensive treatment plans, including pain management, physical therapy, surgery, and more. Request an appointment to begin treating you back pain.