Scoliosis is a sideways curve to your spine that usually afflicts adolescents, though it can appear in infancy, childhood, or even when you’re an adult. You’re more likely to develop scoliosis as an adult if you have age-related spinal degeneration, such as osteoporosis.
When you started researching your condition on the internet, you learned that doctors usually limit surgical corrections to children or teenagers whose spines haven’t yet fully matured. Does that mean you have no options but further progression of your disease?
The spine experts at The Spine Center at the Bone and Joint Clinic of Baton Rouge in Baton Rouge, Walker, and Prairieville, Louisiana, base treatment for adult scoliosis on symptoms, not just the degree of spinal curvature. If you’re having trouble managing your scoliosis or worry that your symptoms are getting worse, here’s what you need to know about your options.
It’s not about the curve
If you received your scoliosis diagnosis as a child or teen, you may remember the doctor noting that minor curves don’t require treatment, but if you have a C-curve that measures between 25 and 40 degrees, you need treatment, such as bracing. If your C-curve becomes severe (i.e., more than 40 degrees), or if you develop an S-shaped curve, you need surgery.
As an adult, a scoliosis curve is only considered to be severe if it’s more than 50 degrees. Even in such a case, you may not need treatment.
However, if you’re having symptoms, if our doctors notice other problems on examination, or if you have a complex S-curve, they may recommend nonsurgical or surgical treatment. Symptoms that could warrant treatment include:
- Trouble breathing
- Trouble standing
- Back or leg pain
- Numb or weak legs
- Muscle spasms
- Loss of height
- Premature satiety
If you have symptoms such as shortness of breath or feeling full after eating a small amount of food, your spinal curve may be pressing against your lungs or stomach.
Some people don’t know they have scoliosis until they’re adults. You might have even developed scoliosis as an adult due to other problems with your spine, including osteoporosis. Osteoporosis could complicate your treatment options, too, because your bones may be too fragile for surgery.
If you have back pain along with a curve, you may have developed another condition called spinal stenosis. With spinal stenosis, the space in your spinal canal narrows because of bone spurs from arthritis or because of the scoliotic curve. When your spinal canal is too narrow, it presses upon your spinal nerves, causing severe pain.
Nonsurgical options for adult scoliosis
If your symptoms are mild and your scoliosis isn’t progressing rapidly, our doctors may recommend nonsurgical treatment. First, they prescribe physical therapy to strengthen the muscles in your core, which support your spine. Strong back muscles help to minimize your symptoms.
They may also advise lifestyle changes that strengthen your core, spine, and entire body. Some recommendations include:
- Exercising more
- Losing weight
- Postural training
- Quitting smoking
- Improving your diet
They may also advise wearing a brace to help straighten your spine. However, bracing weakens your back muscles, so you can’t wear it for long. If you’re in pain, they may recommend medications or steroid injections to subdue inflammation.
Surgical options for adult scoliosis
If you have severe symptoms, or a curve that’s greater than 50 degrees and progressing, our doctors may recommend surgery. They may also recommend surgical correction if you have another condition, such as spinal stenosis, that arose from your scoliosis. Options include:
Your doctor fuses two or more vertebrae together to fix the curve and stabilize your spine. They may also place titanium screws and rods to de-rotate and straighten your spine. To avoid another surgery, the rods and screws are left in place after your spine straightens.
If your curve is severe or rigid, your surgeon may remove parts of the facet joints to release them. They may also remove the roof of a facet joint to release pressure on your spinal nerves.