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Adult Degenerative Scoliosis

A graphic of Scoliosis Do you remember being screened for scoliosis when you were a child? The short, non-invasive test was performed by a trained professional like your pediatrician or a school nurse to determine if you had a curve in your spine that may need to be examined by an orthopedic specialist.

Those screenings were — and continue to be — very helpful in the early diagnosis of scoliosis in children. And as with so many health conditions, early diagnosis is important as that leads to early treatment.

More than 60% of adults over the age of 60 experience some amount of degenerative scoliosis. “This happens in adulthood because as we age the components that make up our spine including the intervertebral discs and facet joints of the spine begin to wear down,” said to Dr. Monir Tabbosha, a board-certified and spine fellowship-trained neurosurgeon at Beacon Orthopaedics & Sports Medicine. Some patients experience this because of manual labor over time or perhaps due to disease processes like osteoporosis.

Dr. Tabbosha went on to explain that this degeneration may simply occur as someone ages. In fact, the average age of patients he treats for scoliosis is 70 years old. So, while it’s still important for elementary school students to be screened, it is highly likely that older adults who experience back pain may have scoliosis. Some common symptoms of adult degenerative scoliosis include:

  •       Dull ache or stiffness in the lower back
  •       Sharp shooting pain in the legs (aka sciatic pain)
  •       Numbness and/or tingling in the legs
  •       Fatigue or leg “heaviness” when walking that improves with rest

Scoliosis graphicSymptoms associated with degenerative scoliosis tend (as the name implies) to worsen over time. Some patients report that they are “leaning forward” unintentionally or that that they cannot stand up straight when walking. It is not necessary to be formally diagnosed to seek relief. Being evaluated by a professional is a good step to take.

Dr. Tabbosha is quick to assure that this condition is common and probably does not need surgery. In fact, he says there are non-surgical treatment options to manage back pain (including physical therapy or epidural injections). “However, if these treatments do not relieve the symptoms,” said Dr. Tabbosha, “we will discuss the surgical options – together — to help straighten and support the spine.”

If you are experiencing any of these symptoms or have questions or concerns about your back pain or curvature, you can schedule an appointment online anytime. It’s still a short, non-invasive test.

And this time, you won’t even have to miss recess.