Scoliosis is a condition referring to any abnormal curvature of the spinal column. While we may associate it with adolescents, scoliosis can affect patients of all ages, particularly older patients due to age-related factors. This is because there are many types of scoliosis, each with different causes and risk factors.
Although not necessarily painful, scoliosis can cause severe pain and dysfunction, particularly in more advanced cases. Due to spinal misalignment, scoliosis can also lead to painful nerve compression that can cause local and radiating pain. Fortunately, there are a wide range of scoliosis treatment that can help patients manage symptoms and improve function. This includes conservative therapies all the way to scoliosis surgery.
Whether you have been diagnosed with scoliosis and are seeking relief or you would like to learn more about potential causes of back pain and dysfunction, educating yourself as a patient is an important step. That’s why the expert team at USA Spine Care is sharing the following comprehensive overview of types of scoliosis and scoliosis treatment.
As you read over this guide, please feel free to reach out to one of our caring and dedicated team if you’d like to learn more. We’re here to help.
Understanding the types of scoliosis and their primary causes
The spine has a natural curvature when viewed from the side, making an “S” shape. This helps with spinal stability and flexibility, allowing us to perform our daily activities while protecting the spinal cord and other parts of the central nervous system. However, when viewed from the front or back, the spine should be relatively straight from top to bottom, with little lateral deviation.
Scoliosis is diagnosed when there is approximately 20 degrees or more of abnormal lateral curvature. Symptoms of scoliosis include:
- A noticeable variance in hip and/or shoulder height
- Head is off-center from the pelvis
- Unevenness in the height of the rib cage on either side.
- Appearance of asymmetry in the waistline
- Visible deformity of the area overlying the spine, including dimples, increased hair, or changes in color.
- The body leaning toward one side or the other
Diagnosing scoliosis requires a review of medical history, physical examination, as well as movement and posture tests. Diagnostic testing such as an X-ray or MRI can help precisely identify the degree of curvature and/or the presence of nerve compression. Additional tests may be required to rule out other conditions or identify an underlying disease or syndrome.
There are many types of scoliosis, with physicians typically diagnosing scoliosis patients with one of the following:
- Neuromuscular scoliosis — This type of scoliosis is related to brain, spinal cord, and nervous system disorders that can affect function of muscles. It will typically be diagnosed during childhood and has an increased risk of paralysis. Neuromuscular scoliosis may be treated by bracing, implanting of rods or potentially scoliosis surgery such as fusion.
- Degenerative scoliosis — This condition occurs most commonly in adulthood or old age and is related to natural changes in the body. Spinal anatomy such as damaged discs and brittle cartilage can lead to increased abnormal spinal curvature.
- Congenital scoliosis — This type of scoliosis is present at birth due to birth defects in the vertebrae or irregularly fused vertebrae.
- Idiopathic scoliosis — This type of scoliosis refers to spinal curvature without a fully known cause. It is most often identified among adolescent patients, which is why screenings are performed in middle or high school.
- Thoracogenic scoliosis — This form of scoliosis is diagnosed in patients with asymmetrical spinal development due to factors such as radiation treatment for childhood tumors or heart surgery to address certain birth defects.
- Syndromic scoliosis — This type develops as a result of an underlying syndrome or disorder, including muscular dystrophy.
In all but the most severe cases, scoliosis treatment usually begins with conservative, nonsurgical therapies. Scoliosis surgery is usually not indicated upon initial diagnosis of scoliosis.
Scoliosis treatment varies on a case-by-case basis
Scoliosis is a nonreversible condition without a known cure. Because of this, the goal of scoliosis treatment is usually to manage symptoms and improve function. If you are a patient with scoliosis, work with your doctor or other medical professionals to develop an effective scoliosis treatment plan for your individual needs and your type of scoliosis.
Common conservative treatment options for scoliosis include:
- Bracing, a common option that helps to stabilize the spine externally and may help slow down the rate of curvature
- Exercises, such as core strengthening and gentle stretches can help strengthen the spine and improve range of motion
- Physical therapy can further help to improve function through carefully designed therapeutic exercises and manual therapy
- Medication such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs
- Therapeutic massage to help relax muscles and improve blood flow
- Therapeutic injections to relieve pain if spinal curvature is causing nerve compression or inflammation
Patients with scoliosis are also encouraged to practice a healthy lifestyle that includes eating a healthy diet, staying active, maintaining a healthy weight, avoiding tobacco products and reducing alcohol consumption.
When to consider scoliosis surgery and what to know
The goal of scoliosis surgery is typically to either stabilize the spine through a fusion procedure or relieve nerve compression related to scoliosis through a decompression procedure. In either situation, scoliosis surgery does not involve correcting or fixing the actual curvature.
Traditional approaches to scoliosis surgery required a full open spine procedure performed in a hospital. This means a large incision, significant soft tissue disruption and a long, often difficult recovery period, particularly for patients with scoliosis.
With advancements in medical technology and surgical technique, surgeons can now perform minimally invasive spine surgery on an outpatient basis. For patients requiring scoliosis surgery who are suitable candidates, these procedures offer a smaller incision, reduced muscle disruption and a streamlined, outpatient experience. This helps reduce the risk of hospital-based infection and helps promote a quicker, more productive recovery period.
Patients with scoliosis who undergo surgery should expect to receive detailed instructions for the recovery process. It is important to follow these closely and complete any and all physical therapy and rehabilitation to give yourself the best chance of a positive outcome. Recovery times vary from patient to patient basis, taking anywhere from four weeks to six months, depending on the patient, the procedure, the type of scoliosis and many other factors.
Reach out to USA Spine Care to learn more
USA Spine Care is a leader in multidisciplinary care for a wide range of spine and orthopedic conditions, including most types of scoliosis. Whether you need physical therapy, therapeutic injections or minimally invasive spine surgery, we’re committed to helping patients get back to a healthy and active lifestyle.
Our team has decades of combined experience developing comprehensive, individualized treatment plans. At our state-of-the-art centers, we’re committed to the highest level of patient-centered care that helps you feel at ease so you can focus on finding the relief you and your family deserve.
Scoliosis does not have to run your life. Find the relief and improved function you deserve by contacting USA Spine Care today.
Scoliosis Quick Answers
Can scoliosis get worse as you age?
Scoliosis is a progressive condition, so it does tend to get worse with age. However, this varies on a case-by-case basis, so it is possible to slow down the progression of scoliosis. Taking a proactive approach to your treatment offers the best chance of better outcomes for scoliosis.
Can scoliosis be fixed?
Scoliosis is a nonreversible condition without a cure. The goal of treatment is to manage symptoms, improve function and slow down the progression of curvature. This can very often be accomplished through a combination of conservative therapies. Surgery may become an option in cases of severe spinal instability and pain related to nerve compression.
What are the primary types of scoliosis?
There are a wide range of scoliosis types, from congenital scoliosis related to a birth defect to degenerative scoliosis caused by the breakdown of spinal anatomy. The most commonly known is idiopathic scoliosis which develops in adolescents and may be related to growth.
What is the quality of life expectancy for scoliosis patients?
Scoliosis can lead to severe deformity, dysfunction and pain. The severity and prognosis depends on a wide range of factors including type of scoliosis, other health issues and patient lifestyle. Patients should work with treatment professionals to develop an effective treatment plan for long-term relief.