Scoliosis can sound like a frightening diagnosis, but it’s much more common than you may realize, and usually doesn’t cause additional health problems. Here at Texas Spine Consultants in Addison and Plano, Michael Ware Hennessy, MD, is a highly skilled orthopedic surgeon who specializes in diagnosing and managing scoliosis for patients of all ages, including adults.
Dr. Hennessy determines if you have scoliosis and if it requires treatment -- and many times, it doesn’t. He shares these five facts you didn’t know about adult scoliosis.
1. Scoliosis is not a disease, but rather, a spinal abnormality.
Scoliosis is a condition in which your spine grows with an abnormal curvature instead of growing in a straight line. A scoliosis curve most commonly looks like an “S” or a “C” shape. You may be born with scoliosis, or it might be the result of physical trauma, cerebral palsy, or a degenerative health condition that occurs when you’re an adult.
Many people have scoliosis with no other underlying conditions and no identifiable cause. This is called idiopathic scoliosis, and it’s the most common form of the spinal disorder. In most cases, scoliosis develops during adolescence, but adults can get scoliosis as a result of a degenerative condition of the spine, such as osteoporosis or degenerative disc disease.
2. At least 60% of the population over age 60 has mild degenerative scoliosis.
Because adult scoliosis may not cause obvious symptoms, it’s hard to know exactly how many people have it, but one study estimated that 6 out of 10 American adults over age 60 have a mild form of degenerative scoliosis. Adult scoliosis occurs gradually, so symptoms may come and go. Usually, the earliest signs of a problem appear as dull aches or stiffness in your mid-to-lower back.
3. Scoliosis is incurable, but you may be able keep it from getting worse.
There is no cure for any type of scoliosis, including degenerative, but in most cases, you can prevent symptoms from getting worse. You may have had mild scoliosis all of your life and not even realized it, as it may not have been painful or interfered with daily activities. If you do have back or neck pain as an adult, it could be a sign of a degenerative condition that’s slowly causing your spine to curve abnormally.
Scoliosis is often a “watch and wait” type of condition in which Dr. Hennessy keeps an eye on the severity of your scoliosis and how much more it may progress based on the degenerative conditions in your mid-to-lower spine or neck.
Physical therapy, exercises, and stretching can help strengthen back muscles and relieve any pain or tension you may feel from the onset of adult scoliosis. While treatments won’t cure scoliosis, they can delay its progression and alleviate symptoms.
4. Degenerative scoliosis can become serious when the spinal cord or a nerve root become hindered.
Spinal stenosis — a narrowing of the spinal canal — or severe spinal bending may jeopardize nerve function in your spine. Typically, adults first feel this type of nerve impingement as sciatica pain from a nerve in the lower spine that’s compressed. Just because you have sciatica doesn’t necessarily mean you have adult scoliosis, but it could be a sign that your spine is degenerating in a way that’s putting pressure on the sciatic nerve and causing painful symptoms.
5. Most adults won’t need surgery for scoliosis.
Good news! If you do experience scoliosis as an adult, you probably won’t need spinal surgery to correct it. Typically, surgery is reserved for the most severe cases of scoliosis, when the abnormal curvature of the spine interferes with other organs or puts pressure on nerves, and doesn’t respond to nonsurgical treatments.
If you have degenerative scoliosis as an adult, treatments that increase your strength and improve mobility, such as physical therapy or massage therapy, can alleviate symptoms for the long term.
If you’re concerned about adult scoliosis, schedule a spinal evaluation with Dr. Hennessy. He develops and individual treatment plan to relieve any discomfort and slow the progression of the condition. He helps you learn how to manage scoliosis effectively without surgery, whenever possible.
Call the office or use the convenient online booking system to request an appointment.