Adult Scoliosis: What You Need to Know

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Adult degenerative scoliosis (also called adult “de novo” scoliosis) is a type of scoliosis that develops as a result of disc degeneration. This can happen as we age and when back muscles become weak. Most typically, it presents itself as a sagittal plane deformity—imagine someone who has to walk hunched over. This strain can cause a significant amount of back pain and can lead to spinal stenosis.

Some common signs associated with a sagittal plane deformity are:

  • Sensation of falling forward
  • Difficulty walking
  • Leaning forward when walking
  • Back pain when walking or standing
  • Cramping in legs when walking

Who Does This Affect?

Surprisingly, these deformities are not typically seen in patients with a history of pediatric scoliosis. However, patients with prior lumbar spine surgery, especially Harrington Rods, are particularly susceptible. It’s important to know that adult scoliosis can arise in anyone regardless of their medical history.

What Can Be Done?

In most cases, a physician will start with conservative treatments such as anti-inflammatories, physical therapy and/or epidural injections. When pain cannot be managed by these treatments, surgery is an option.

What about Surgery?

Surgery for adult scoliosis involves a major spinal realignment. It is important to remember that this means there is a long recovery time and a higher complication rate. However, carefully selected patients can do very well with surgery.

Who Is A Potential Candidate for Surgery?

Potential candidates for surgery include patients younger than 75 years old with no history of osteoporosis whose symptoms have made them unable to perform activities of daily living such as meal preparation or walking short distances without pain.

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