What Is Scoliosis?

Scoliosis is the abnormal curvature of the spine affecting between 5 and 7 million people in the United States. The condition can begin at any age but is found in over 50% of people over the age of 60 and 1-2% of adolescents. It is more commonly found in females and can be genetic, running in families.

Scoliosis may produce specific, progressive signs and symptoms resulting in lowered quality of life. The spine may appear to bend in a “C” or “S” shape.

Spinal curvature is assessed by measuring Cobb’s angle, a radiographic measurement. Other signs of scoliosis may include uneven musculature on one side of the spine, uneven hips, uneven leg lengths, imbalance, anxiety, and a prominent rib or shoulder blade caused by rotation of the ribcage. In severe cases, patients may experience difficulty breathing, pain, and reduced functionality. Infections and damage may also occur in the heart and lungs due to friction of the rib cage against these vital organs.

What Are The Symptoms?

Some adults who have this condition have had it since they were teenagers. Over time, the curves can grow.

There’s another form of scoliosis that starts in adulthood. As you get older, normal wear and tear causes the discs sitting between the bones & joints in your spine to start to break down. As this occurs, the discs lose some height & start to tilt, causing your spine to curve.

Often, back pain is the first sign of this condition in adults. The pain may be from bone damage in the back — not the scoliosis itself. As the spine curves, it can put pressure on nearby nerves and cause symptoms like weakness and numbness.

In adults, some symptoms including:

  • Uneven shoulders and/or hips
  • Bump in the lower back
  • Numbness, weakness, or pain in the legs
  • Trouble walking
  • Trouble standing up straight
  • Tiredness
  • Shortness of breath
  • Loss of height
  • Bone spurs– bony bumps in the joints of the spine from bone and joint damage
  • Feeling full quickly while you eat. This is because your spine is putting pressure on your belly.

What Causes Scoliosis?

There are different causes:

congenital, idiopathic, and occurring as a result of another condition. It is diagnosed as congenital when scoliosis is present at birth. Idiopathic scoliosis is when there is no other underlying cause found. Most cases are idiopathic.

Scoliosis may be idiopathic, congenital, or occur as a consequence of another condition. This condition is called idiopathic when no underlying cause can be identified. Scoliosis as a secondary symptom of another condition may occur in concert with neuromuscular diseases such as spina bifida, cerebral palsy, and muscular dystrophies. In other cases, scoliosis may arise from physical trauma, spinal stenosis, and bone collapse from osteoporosis.

What Are The Treatments?

The treatment for scoliosis is based on the location and severity of the spinal curvature along with the age of the patient with scoliosis. Luckily, most curved spines can be treated nonsurgically if the curvature is detected before it is too severe. Surgery is only recommended for patients with a spine that is curved 45 degrees, impaired physiological functions like breathing, or progression is highly likely.

There are rehabilitation programs that work to prevent, minimize or improve the symptoms of scoliosis with braces, exercises, and therapies. The most recommended treatments for scoliosis are physical and occupational therapy and chiropractic care. If no treatment is sought, the deformity of the spine can progress dramatically and worsen symptoms.