Although scoliosis most commonly develops during childhood, it can also be present in adults (defined as those who are over 18 and whose bodies have completed growth). Different from scoliosis in children because of its causes, the treatments for adults with the condition are also distinctive.
A musculoskeletal disorder that impacts the shape of the spine (backbone), scoliosis gives a side-to-side rather than front-to-back curvature of the spine. A spine afflicted with scolosis, therefore, may appear as the letter “C” or “S” rather then a straight line.
Adult degenerative scoliosis presents during adulthood and is caused by degenerative changes in the lower back (lumbar spine). And whereas these degenerative changes are natural as a person ages, they can sometimes lead to a side-to-side (right-to-left) curvature of the spine. A combination of aging and stress and strain on the spine causes it to lose its ability to maintain a normal shape, leading to adult degenerative scoliosis. Typically progressing very slowly (a small amount each year) the condition usually affects people over the age of 40, and in older patients—mostly women—it often occurs along with osteoporosis, in which bones become weak and brittle and begin to deteriorate. Osteoarthritis—which occurs due to stress on the joints—can also lead to adult degenerative scoliosis as the spine starts to collapse and an abnormal curve develops.
The symptoms of adult degenerative scoliosis vary. Many patients are afflicted by a slow loss of normal function in everyday movement accompanied by backache or lower back pain; a weakness or pain in the legs; uneven hips or shoulders; and the appearance of a hump on the back.
Adult degenerative scoliosis is diagnosed through multiple evaluations, including medical history that may uncover conditions leading to the spinal curvature and a physical exam to determine visual irregularities such as an uneven rib cage, tilted pelvis, uneven shoulders or general asymmetry in opposite sides of the body. Imaging is also helpful and often necessary, as x-rays, CT scans and MRIs can detect underlying medical problems related to back pain and possible scoliosis and determine the exact angle and curve of the spine.