The most recent memory many of us might have of a scoliosis test is the school nurse’s office during annual health exams. Once we’ve reached adulthood, the assumption is that our spines are out of scoliosis’ reach. Unfortunately, that’s not always the case. Although scoliosis is typically diagnosed at an early age, there are some instances when the condition isn’t diagnosed or doesn’t occur until well into adulthood.
Adult scoliosis doesn’t just mean your pediatrician missed something along the way. This late-in-life diagnosis could be a result of a number of things, explains Dr. Scott Rushton, orthopedic surgeon and medical director of the Spine Center at Lankenau Medical Center, Main Line Health.
“Age-related health problems like osteoporosis, compression fractures, and spinal stenosis can all be factors in adult scoliosis,” he says. “And in some cases, the scoliosis is idiopathic, meaning that there’s no clear reason for it.”
By the time most adults with scoliosis have been diagnosed, the spinal muscles have reached skeletal maturity, making it difficult to correct any curves. Still, treatment options are available.
“For adults with scoliosis, the key factor in treating the condition is to stabilize the spine and lessen the symptoms rather than correct it,” says Dr. Rushton. “Patients who have mild or moderate cases of adult scoliosis usually benefit from physical therapy, exercise, and stretching or strengthening.”
For patients with cases of adult scoliosis that interfere with their daily lives, Dr. Rushton says spine stabilization surgery could be the answer. The procedure uses bone grafts to fuse the bones of the spine together to realign and stabilize the spine, although he emphasizes that this is usually for more severe cases and not the go-to method of treatment for adult scoliosis cases.
If you suspect you might have adult scoliosis, you probably won’t notice many physical symptoms. Instead, look for abnormalities like:
- Uneven shoulders or waistline
- One or both shoulder blades are sticking out
- Leaning slightly to one side
- A hump on one side of the back
Some patients with adult scoliosis have reported physical symptoms like back pain, shortness of breath, and chest pain, but this is very rare and usually only occurs in severe cases.
If you notice cosmetic abnormalities like these with or without physical symptoms, schedule an appointment with your physician for a spinal exam. The Spine Center at Lankenau specializes in the evaluation and treatment of all disorders of the spine. To schedule an appointment, call 610.642.3005.