When scoliosis comes to mind, most of us think of wearing corrective back braces in early adolescence. We’ve all seen them, it is a familiar and acceptable form of treatment, and it works for most people. Adult scoliosis, although much more uncommon is starting to become recognized in medical communities as a growing problem, one that must be addressed to ensure better quality of life for those suffering from it.
What is adult scoliosis?
Scoliosis is most commonly referred to in adults as “a spinal deformity”, a curvature of the spine in a C or S shape that hinders the ability to perform every day movement without pain. In general, a curvature greater than 20 to 25 degrees is considered abnormal, and patients could develop pain and other health problems as a result of this deviation.
Why does scoliosis develop in adults?
While spinal deformity develops as a result of nutritional deficiencies or trauma, it is most often the result of aging and degeneration. As arthritis sets into joints and causes compression along the spine, a certain amount of twisting and curvature can occur as the body naturally tries to protect itself. If curvature becomes severe enough, it can cause pinching of nerves along the spinal column, which can lead to immobility and other issues.
What are treatment options for adults?
Depending on your level of degeneration and degree of curvature, you may have several options for increasing your mobility and managing pain. Some of these options for treatment of mild scoliosis include:
- Physical therapy
- Chiropractic care
- Massage therapy
- Posture therapy and back strengthening exercises
- Ergonomic modifications
- Prescription pain management
If you are employing any of these methods of management, be consistent and keep applying them. The best results will be gained from regular, ongoing treatment and a commitment to keeping a healthy weight.
Believe it or not, posture plays a big role in your experience with scoliosis. Being mindful of sitting, standing, and even walking with correct posture and alignment will help to retrain muscles that have become weakened or out of balance, helping to pull your whole spine back into alignment. Seeing a chiropractor to assess your spinal alignment will be critical as you continue to manage your condition.
Will surgery be necessary?
Only a small percentage of adults with scoliosis are considered severe enough to need surgical intervention. Many times, this is due to ongoing pain or dysfunction in the lower extremities, interfering with mobility. Spinal surgery is an invasive surgery, and one that does not come without the potential for complications.
The most common type of surgery performed to correct scoliosis is spinal fusion. The spine is combined with bone grafts to hold it in a straighter position. Other variations of a standard fusion could include:
1. Decompression fusion–pressure is relieved on nerves and muscles by removing nerves and tendons along the spine. Fusion is then performed to bring the spine into better alignment.
2. Surgical stabilization—if the spine is bent beyond what can be repaired with bone grafts, it may be necessary to use screws and rods to hold bone in place.
3. Osteotomy–This surgical cutting through bone and vertebrae allows the spine to be bent in such a way that it can be then fused into a corrected position.
4. Vertebral column resection–this most severe procedure involves removing entire sections of bone and vertebrae, followed by osteotomy and surgical restabilization. It carries with it the highest risk of complications.
Things to keep in mind if you are considering surgery
Surgery is the right option for a small group of people. If you have had scoliosis your whole life, you are not likely to benefit from surgery in later life. If your condition is worsening, or if you find yourself in pain, you might be the right candidate for a procedure.
Make sure you fully understand risks and complications. For more advanced cases of scoliosis, about 30 percent of patients experience some type of complication following their procedure. In rare cases, paralysis does occur. Knowing what you are getting into and being able to weigh the risk factors against any benefits will help you to make the right decision. Choose a care team that you trust implicitly. Knowing your surgeon and having a trusting relationship with him/her will help facilitate open communication that is needed both pre- and post-surgery. Do your research, and choose someone who comes highly recommended with a proven track record of success and experience. With the right kinds of therapies, a commitment to self-care and practice, and a trusted care team, you can improve your mobility and ease chronic pain caused by scoliosis. Give us a call today at 205-637-1363 to see what treatment options are available to you.