Scoliosis in Older Adults

When we think of Scoliosis, we often think about it affecting mainly adolescents, however, adult-onset Scoliosis is quite common. Degenerative Scoliosis, or adult-onset scoliosis, is described as a side to side curvature of the spine. This curvature is caused by the degeneration of joints and the moving parts of the spine called the intervertebral discs.


How does it develop?


Naturally, with age, our bones and joints start to degenerate, causing the spine to curve. However, in the case of scoliosis, particularly called idiopathic scoliosis, there is no known cause. Some studies have discovered that adult-onset Scoliosis may actually have been pediatric scoliosis that was undiscovered until adulthood. Depending on the type, scoliosis can appear in childhood, adolescence, or in older years after puberty and when the spine has fully developed, allowing the curvature to be more evident.


Signs & Symptoms


Most typically, the sign of scoliosis is the curvature of the spine. A scoliosis curve usually looks a bit like a backward C shape and involves the spine bending sideways to the right or left. Beyond the curvature of the spine, most cases of adult scoliosis don’t cause symptoms, though pain may develop. Back pain may occur for many reasons including arthritis, inability to stand upright, or weakness.

Leg pain or numbness/weakness may develop if there is pressure on the nerves in the lumbar spine.


In some cases, changes in the body may include height loss, imbalance, muscle spasms, and uneven alignment of the pelvis and hips.


Treatment


Many cases of adult scoliosis do not require surgery. Treatments may include:

  • pain medication (over the counter)

  • core strengthening exercises to strengthen your abdomen and back and to improve flexibility

  • physical therapy

However, in some cases, surgery is the only option, and often the last option due to the risks involved. Surgery is often considered an option in order to reduce the severity of pain, to help treat the spinal imbalance that causes the individual to have difficulty with mobility, and finally, surgery may be considered as a means to improve the overall quality of the person's life.


Prevention


Adult scoliosis cannot be prevented. For individuals with idiopathic scoliosis, the cause of the condition is unknown. Degenerative scoliosis happens over time as the body ages. Therefore, it is important to incorporate regular low impact aerobic and core strengthening exercise programs in your daily routine. Also, if you smoke, you are advised to quit, as smoking has been shown to speed up the degenerative process.



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