Although scoliosis is one of the most commonly appearing developments throughout childhood, it can also affect many adults. This condition causes a lateral or sideways curvature of the spine, which is known as kyphosis. Here is all the information you need to know about scoliosis in adults and how it is diagnosed.
What Is Adult Scoliosis?
Adult Scoliosis is a curve in the spine that has progressed since a person’s youth, or it can be a newly diagnosed condition called de novo. Scoliosis affects three primary sections, such as the thoracic spine (upper back and chest area), lumbar spine (lower back), or cervical spine (the neck).
What Are the Symptoms of Adult Scoliosis?
Most adults gradually feel a lot of pain in the abovementioned areas of their bodies. This pain can be very intense, which causes a person to seek medical care. It can be related to the curve itself, or there may be some compression of the spinal nerves. Otherwise, muscular fatigue can also cause pain because muscles on the convex side work more vigorously than usual to maintain balance and posture. You may feel fatigued from overworked muscles or from nerve compression. This is known as spinal stenosis, which can generate nerve inflammation leading to numbness and weakness from standing or walking.
There may also be a visible and painful bulge on the back. This results from rib cage or muscle rotation, where the asymmetry makes it challenging to stand upright. Other symptoms include loss of height or stature and shortness of breath due to fatigue if a patient’s curve has progressed severely, compressing their lungs. You may also feel full prematurely while eating, even though your stomach is not. This hunger satiety happens from pressure when people have progressive thoracolumbar curves that span the lumbar and thoracic sections of their spine.
How Adult Scoliosis Is Diagnosed
If you experience any of these symptoms, your doctor will conduct a physical exam. This will include X-rays or EOS imaging with low-dose radiation. They will examine the front and side of your spine as you stand upright to measure the degree of your curve.
Besides the physical exam and imaging, your doctor will also look for signs of spinal stenosis to examine the compression of your spinal canal. You may also have to undergo more tests if they find evidence of your lung function being affected by scoliosis. In rare cases, some patients with severe curves can also develop pulmonary heart disease, which will require further treatment and evaluation.
How Is Adult Scoliosis Treated?
In many cases, adult scoliosis can be treated non-operatively. Your doctor can prescribe pain medication like nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. You may also need physical therapy to strengthen your core muscles, postural training, and weight maintenance. If your nerves are inflamed, you can be given steroid injections in the facet joints where your vertebrae meet each level of your spine.
If you experience muscle spasms, your doctor can prescribe a brace that needs to be worn daily. However, most specialists try to avoid braces because they gradually weaken your muscles further from the support they provide.
Patients who do not respond to these non-operative treatments or have significantly impaired spinal curves can be referred for surgical treatment. This can be crucial if your lung or neurological functions also degrade, and you cannot stand up anymore or perform daily activities. An orthopedic surgeon will make a careful incision in your back, which will correct scoliosis with screws that will hold the vertebrae together with bone chips. These chips can be autografts taken from other parts of your body or allografts sourced from bone bank donors.
The healing process can take around a year or longer, even though recovery from the surgery itself is less than 6 weeks. During this time, your doctor should carefully monitor you for complications, such as unexpected loosening of the implanted instruments, neurological issues, infections, blood clots, and further spinal imbalance. After surgery, you may have to stay in the hospital for a week or longer. However, you will most likely bounce back on your feet in no time on the first day of physical therapy, and this makes the entire process of seeking medical help to say goodbye to scoliosis worthwhile.