Adult Degenerative Scoliosis

Scoliosis, or abnormal curvature of the spine, is often associated with adolescents. However, adults may also develop scoliosis. Adult scoliosis is defined as abnormal curvature of the spine in a patient over the age of 18.

Causes

Adult scoliosis is sometimes the result of untreated (or even undiagnosed) scoliosis that worsens as the individual ages. In other cases, adult scoliosis may be the result of degeneration (wear and tear) on the spine. When scoliosis develops during adulthood without a history of childhood scoliosis, it is usually classified as adult degenerative scoliosis.

Terminology

Scoliosis refers to the side-to-side curvature of the spine. If surgically corrected, the procedure may involve anterior (surgical approach is through an incision near the chest wall) or posterior (surgical approach is through an incision in the back) fusion. Fusion refers to the joining of two vertebrae to help stabilize them This may require hardware called instrumentation, such as screws, pins, rods, and so on. In some cases a bone graft is required. If the bone graft material was taken from the patient himself, it is called autograft; if it was taken from a donor, it is an allograft.

Symptoms

Changes to the body caused by the aging process may result in degenerative spinal conditions. When parts of the vertebral column begin to age, some people begin to experience back or neck pain. Common degenerative spinal conditions include:

  • Spinal stenosis
  • Degenerative disc disease (DDD)
  • Osteoporosis
  • Vertebral compression fractures

Sometimes, the effects of these conditions cause the spine to curve to the left or right. Abnormal curvature can cause problems such as:

  • Body imbalance, so that the person tilts or veers to one side
  • Spinal instability
  • Rib prominence on either side
  • “Humpback”
  • Irregular gait
  • Legs of different lengths
  • Pain
  • Difficulty sitting or standing
  • Spinal rigidity and stiffness
  • Nerve damage
  • Heart and lung problems

Treatment

The Neuro Spinal Hospital can advise patients on the latest treatment options for adult degenerative scoliosis. Most cases of adult scoliosis are treated without surgery. Treatment may include:

  • Observation of the curve for possible progression
  • Pain medications
  • Anti-inflammatory medications
  • Back exercises for improving posture and gaining strength
  • Moist heat
  • In some cases, bracing may be used (but only to control pain, not to correct the deformity)

Most cases of adult scoliosis need no surgical treatment at all. Scoliosis patients may benefit from lifestyle modifications including:

  • Weight loss
  • Healthful diet
  • Smoking cessation
  • Regular exercise

Surgical correction of adult degenerative scoliosis is uncommon. However, it may be necessary if:

  • Nonoperative treatment fails and pain persists
  • Curvature worsens
  • Curvature is excessive (curves greater than 45-degrees)
  • Curvature causes heart and lung problems

The team at Neuro Spinal Hospital will provide patients with the latest treatment options suitable for their individual cases. If spine surgery is necessary, it may include spinal instrumentation with fusion.

  • Spinal instrumentation refers to pins, rods, screws, or other devices implanted in the spine to help stabilize it
  • Fusion refers to bone graft material to further stabilize the spine

The Neuro Spinal Hospital physicians will discuss the potential risks and benefits of adult degenerative scoliosis surgery with potential candidates.

Prognosis

The prognosis for adult degenerative scoliosis is highly individualised in that it depends on its severity, the patient’s general health and other conditions, and the treatment received. Neuro Spinal Hospital can help provide the latest treatment options which may result in optimal outcomes.

Risk Factors

Individuals with untreated childhood scoliosis are at risk for scoliosis later in life. Degenerative scoliosis is associated with aging.

Conclusion

Adult scoliosis may occur as a result of the aging process (degenerative scoliosis) or untreated childhood scoliosis. While not all adult scoliosis requires treatment, adult scoliosis is progressive and may be associated with pain and other challenging symptoms. The Neuro Spinal Hospital can diagnose and provide the latest treatment options for adult scoliosis, which may include bracing and, in rare instances, surgery.

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