A scoliosis diagnosis means different things to different patients.
For some, it means dealing with a minor inconvenience that never quite becomes a real problem — or one that fades away as adulthood approaches. For others, it means chronic back pain and an inhibited range of motion. In extreme cases, it could mean suffering from heart problems or breathing difficulties.
The good news is that the vast majority of idiopathic scoliosis cases cause few or relatively minor organic health problems. Although five in 100 adolescents have some degree of scoliosis, fewer than 10 percent will reach the surgical threshold.
For those with scoliosis, the prognosis and expected quality of life can vary drastically depending on the severity of the curve. And that’s difficult to predict — there’s no telling how quickly the curve might progress until the spine has stopped growing.
To further complicate the outcome of scoliosis, life expectancy (and quality) also varies based on the chosen treatment method. Some treatment options pose serious complications, while others can drastically improve patient outcomes.
Understanding Scoliosis Life Expectancy
Is scoliosis deadly?
It’s a question many patients ask upon receiving the diagnosis. And for the vast majority of them, it’s not. Scoliosis-related factors that could impact life expectancy include:
Accumulated stress. In milder cases, most scoliosis symptoms aren’t severe enough to impair the patient’s ability to function, but over time they can add up to a lot of strain on the body. On top of the emotional stress caused by the spine’s deformity, patients may endure chronic pain and fatigue, headaches, difficulty sleeping and digestive problems — all of which can sap vitality over time.
Decreased lung function. As the scoliotic curves progress, they can start placing abnormal pressure on the lungs. In severe cases, the deformity can force the ribs against the lungs, which can restrict breathing and lower oxygen levels in the body. While the spinal curve and rib cage may decrease lung function, it will not result in death — even with very severe curves — once the patient has passed age 5 and the lungs have fully developed; however, it may make patients more susceptible to pneumonia and lung infections.
Spinal surgery. This is one of the few controllable factors associated with scoliosis life expectancy. Patients who opt for spinal fusion surgery face an elevated mortality risk. While the likelihood of death falls below 1 percent for healthy patients, the odds leap to 20 percent for patients with low vitality. Even if all goes well, half of all spinal fusion patients suffer long-term complications and as many as 40 percent end up severely disabled.
Is scoliosis dangerous? It can be, but rarely is. Fortunately, today’s patients have more treatment options than ever to achieve the best possible scoliosis prognosis.
Improving Scoliosis Outcomes
Past scoliosis treatments have all revolved around slowing or stopping curve progression. In their attempts to fight the spine’s curvature, doctors often subject patients to debilitating treatments that do little to improve — and often much to diminish — the patient’s quality of life.
Spinal fusion surgery is just one example. Bracing, a common treatment for moderate spinal curves, is another. Not only does wearing a back brace cause physical pain and discomfort, but it has also been linked to low self-esteem, high depression rates and other forms of psychological duress.
To avoid the significant drawbacks of traditional scoliosis treatments, which aim to force the spine into alignment, an increasing number of patients are turning to therapies that work with the body to address the core problem of scoliosis: the miscommunication between brain and muscles.
Muscle retraining, genetic testing and nutritional support not only provide measurable, long-term results, but they also offer a far better quality of life than bracing or surgery. Exercising with the ScoliSMART Scoliosis Activity Suit, for example, reduces or stabilizes spinal curves in 90 percent of patients within one year — all without the trauma and physical discomfort of wearing a brace.
With such a high success rate for slowing progression, muscle retraining programs can drastically improve both the prognosis and quality of life for scoliosis patients.