Last updated on January 17th, 2022 at 08:48 am
Adults with scoliosis often feel they have very few options. Bracing, spinal fusion surgery is the typical treatment option focused on adolescent scoliosis. This is despite the fact that a greater percentage of adults have the condition. As many as 7 in 10 adults over the age of 60 have scoliosis. As compared to 3 to 5 percent of adolescents. Some doctors believe scoliosis in adults will increase over the next 20 years. There has never been a better time to begin a proactive scoliosis intervention effort.
“Many adults need a lifelong strategy for living their best life with scoliosis.”
Clayton J. Stitzel DC
Adults with scoliosis also tend to have more symptoms than adolescents.
Degeneration of the spine’s discs and joints, often caused by bone loss, narrows nerve openings and leads to:
- back pain
- and loss of function.
Most physicians focus only on managing pain through:
- or radical procedures such as severing the nerve roots
But they are mistaken; scoliosis can be improved. Get tips on Scoliosis Management sent directly to your email.
Researchers have found that when doctors focus on treating the underlying cause of scoliosis symptoms, adult patients have less pain. Also, improve their ability to function. This groundbreaking study has given hope to adults with scoliosis who struggle daily with pain.
Causes of Scoliosis in Adults
Most people think of scoliosis as a condition that affects only adolescents. Not something adults struggle with. But every child with scoliosis becomes an adult scoliosis patient. The belief that curves don’t progress during adulthood is a myth. Adolescent curves over 50 degrees are likely to continue growing and can advance by up to 2 degrees per year. Over several decades, it can add up to significant progression and spinal deformity.
It is also a myth that adults don’t develop mild scoliosis or symptoms of scoliosis. As the joints degenerate and bone density decreases, de novo adult spinal scoliosis begins. It is a common condition among older adults, 68 percent of whom show signs of it. That is more than twice as many as the medical community before thought.
Adult scoliosis can have a variety of causes. The most common types include:
Idiopathic Scoliosis in Adults (Type of scoliosis)
Idiopathic scoliosis, the cause of which is unknown, typically peaks while the spine is still maturing. Progression becomes less once the patient is done growing. Unfortunately, the symptoms often become more severe as the curves slowly advance over the years. As the spine’s natural curve diminishes, adults may lean forward to relieve pressure on the nerves. Often causing the hips and knees to remain upright.
Adult Degenerative Scoliosis (a form of scoliosis called “De Novo”)
When scoliosis develops during adulthood, it is often the result of lower bone density and strength. In post-menopausal women, degenerative scoliosis is often caused by hormonal changes. This causes arthritis, the space between discs collapses, and causes back and leg pain.
Osteoporosis affects men and women at similar rates after the age of 70, causing lumbar scoliosis.
Common scoliosis symptoms in adults
- Chronic back pain
- Body image concerns
- Restricted breathing
- Inability to stand for long periods of time
Additional scoliosis symptoms
Adult Scoliosis Treatment Options
Since many different factors contribute to adult scoliosis. Treatment should include a variety of approaches that work together to address the underlying causes of chronic scoliosis pain. For example, ScoliSMART’s treatment for adult scoliosis incorporates:
Exercise. Weight-bearing postural activities, combined with balancing and isometric exercises. These can help reverse adult scoliosis regardless of its origins. Using the ScoliSMART Activity Suit, adult patients can perform “Reflexive Response” exercises. This helps retrain the brain to naturally correct the postural imbalance that causes scoliosis curves.
- Nutritional supplements. Maintaining healthy levels of
- vitamin C,
- and B-vitamins are vital for supporting the treatment of adult scoliosis. Dietary supplements can also help rebuild the lost bone matrix and relieve scoliosis pain. Whole-body vibration therapy. For patients in too much pain to exercise, whole-body vibration therapy can help combat the effects of degenerative scoliosis. Mostly by improving bone density and strengthening back muscles.
- Curcumin and “Do It Yourself” home rehab for scoliosis pain management
More About the ScoliSMART Activity Suit
The ScoliSMART Activity Suit is a non-invasive, non-surgical treatment option for adult scoliosis that doesn’t just provide pain relief. It corrects the underlying problem of spinal curvature, improves balance, and core stability.
Treatment Solutions for Adults
With the right combination of therapies, adults with scoliosis can:
- achieve gradual pain reduction,
- improved function,
- and even potential curve reduction.
How ScoliSMART Exercises Can Help Adults with Scoliosis
As a teenager, she spent five years in back braces trying to reduce her scoliosis curve. But as soon as the brace came off, the curve started progressing again – growing 10 degrees over the next six years.
By age 25, her curve measured 47 degrees — just shy of the high-risk waterline for rapid progression. To prevent the need for surgery, doctors put her on a regimen of scoliosis exercises and measured her progress over the next several months.
After just one year, the patient reduced her curve by nearly 20 degrees.
“When adult scoliosis progresses, it is possible to intervene with specific exercises, not just to get stability, but to recover the last years’ collapse,” researchers concluded.
That is good news for treatment for scoliosis in adults without surgery. As many as 70 percent of adults over 60 have scoliosis, and some doctors believe the number will rise over the next two decades as people live longer. Instead of watching helplessly as curves march toward the surgical threshold, these patients can use exercises to not only stop progression in its tracks and decrease their curves to a more manageable degree.
4 Factors that Affect Curve Progression
It is a common myth that scoliosis progression stops once you reach spinal maturity. Over the course of two decades, four in 10 adult patients will experience curve progression. For most people, the increase is mild, but it can add up over the years.
“It has been known for many years that scoliosis can continue to progress after skeletal maturity,” says spinal expert Alessandra Negrini. “Its evolution is slow and insidious and involves both the anatomic and the functional aspect of the curve.”
How to manage scoliosis in adults
Whether you had idiopathic scoliosis as a child or have developed de novo (new) scoliosis in adulthood, curve progression is generally influenced by four main factors:
- Age. Age can be an important indicator of scoliosis progression in adults and children. Most progression occurs during adolescence with idiopathic scoliosis while the bones are still growing. The younger a child is diagnosed, the higher the chance of curve progression. Once idiopathic patients reach adulthood, progression is typically slow and linear. With De Novo scoliosis, it is often the opposite. As adults approach age 65, the risk of degenerative scoliosis progression increases with age and bone density loss. Postural collapse and the resulting spinal degeneration can also play a role in advancing the curves. Many patients don’t know bone health can be determined accurately, conveniently, and inexpensively with a simple urine test at home that is mailed into a lab for analysis. More information on the testing service can be found here.
- Skeletal maturity. Scoliosis progresses faster while the spine is still developing and slows down once its growth is complete. Doctors measure skeletal maturity on a scale of 0 to 5, with 5 indicating adult bone growth. Patients with a 0 or 1 rating typically experience 68 percent curve progression, while those in the 2 to 4 range show only 23 percent curve growth.
- Gender. Idiopathic scoliosis afflicts more females than males, and curves over 30 degrees are ten times more likely to progress in girls than boys. Once patients reach adulthood, the incidence of scoliosis in men and women evens out. However, as women reach menopause and become more prone to osteoporosis, they may be at heightened risk of degenerative scoliosis progression. In general, there are two times we see rapid curve progression in female scoliosis patients: when estrogen is introduced in early teen growth spurts and when estrogen is reduced as patients begin or finish menopause (leading to loss of bone density and bone mass.
- Curve pattern and size. Certain types of curves are more prone to progression than others. Thoracic curves, which occur on the right side 90 percent of the time, and lumbar curves, usually found on the left, are the two curve patterns most likely to progress. Size also matters. Curves that measure more than 30 Cobb degrees at skeletal maturity typically continue to progress, while curves that reach 50 degrees or greater are likely to advance more rapidly than smaller curves.
Exercises for Scoliosis Curve Reduction
Just because you have already reached skeletal maturity doesn’t mean it is too late to achieve scoliosis curve reduction. If curves can still advance, they can still be diminished with curve exercises.
While scoliosis exercises for adolescents focus on allowing normal growth of the vertebrae, adult exercises for scoliosis curve reduction often aim to correct postural collapse and reduce the asymmetric load on the spine, which in the long run reduces the risk of progression. Improved movement quality and the resulting biomechanical changes in the spine’s soft tissues may also play a role in minimizing progression.
Another approach is to use Reflexive Response Training, which employs involuntary scoliosis exercises that retrain the brain to perceive a different center of balance in the body. By combining the ScoliSMART Activity Suit and other specialized equipment with specific scoliosis exercises, patients can develop new neuromuscular pathways that help rebalance the posture and realign of the spine.
Auto Response Training works for everyone with scoliosis, regardless of age or curves size. In a clinical study, 9 in 10 patients who used the ScoliSMART program stabilized or reduced their curves, while two-thirds of mid-to upper-back curves shrank 6 degrees or more.
Adult Scoliosis Warriors who want to jump-start their treatment can take a multi-dimensional approach with ScoliSMART BootCamp, a 10-day program for patients with curves measuring at least 25 degrees. Through moderate-intensity training, patients spend time getting a handle on their curve progression while learning how to perform scoliosis exercises and continue their treatment at home.
Just because a patient’s curves have continued to progress into adulthood doesn’t mean surgery is the only option. While early intervention works best, even adults with advanced scoliosis can halt the progression and achieve curve reduction using the right scoliosis exercises.
Don’t know where to start? Take our FREE “ScoliQuiz.” (No x-ray required)