When a diagnosis of adult scoliosis is suspected, a detailed examination of a patient’s medical history as well as physical tests and imaging to determine the cause and extent of the spinal curvature is undertaken. During the pre-diagnosis stage, the physician will look for irregularities in the spinal area, such as unevenness in the pelvis, shoulders and rib cage.
Imaging technologies such as x-rays, CT scans and MRIs will give clear pictures of the abnormal curves of the spine and look for any underlying condition that may be causing that curve. Essentially, a physician will be looking to assess the severity of curve, which will dictate what sorts of treatments are undertaken.
After a diagnosis of adult scoliosis is confirmed, treatments will be dependent on the location and severity of curve as well as what caused the scoliosis. Curves that are not severe (not more than 20 degrees) will likely be monitored to ensure they don’t worsen over time, and medications and physical bracing may be recommended for relief of pain. Additionally, courses of physical therapy that strengthen the muscles of the back and help maintain range of movement and mobility may be ordered, coupled with epidural, nerve or facet joint injections that can provide instant and long-term pain relief.
When the more traditional treatments don’t provide lasting long-term relief of symptoms, surgery may be undertaken. The strategy behind surgical procedures is to provide the patient with some degree of pain relief while also stabilizing the spine and ceasing or correcting the spinal curvature. Surgery is common if the curve reaches more than 45 degrees and appears to be worsening.
During surgery for adult scoliosis, a doctor often implants screws and rods into the spine to stabilize it and, in conjunction, performs a spinal fusion. There can be serious complications from scoliosis surgery for adults and the time to recover is generally longer than in children or adolescents. But significant and long-term relief of pain and the curving is very possible, as is an eventual return to daily normal activities.