Understanding Adult Scoliosis: The Basics, Part I Scoliosis is an abnormal curvature of the spine. The human spine is innately designed with three curves, creating an "S" shape from the side. An individual with scoliosis will have a lateral (side-to-side) curve, greater than 10 degrees, which often results in an "S" or "C" shape from the front or rear view of the body.

What is adult scoliosis?

Adult scoliosis is typically a continuation of adolescent scoliosis, which is commonly diagnosed during teenage years. Typically, these adolescent patients are diagnosed with Idiopathic Adolescent Scoliosis (IAP). There are cases where adults can develop scoliosis, however, the vast majority have had scoliosis for much of their life. Someone diagnosed with adult scoliosis could have:

  • Been diagnosed as a teen
  • Worn a corrective brace as a teen
  • Recently been diagnosed
  • Developed scoliosis as an adult
  • Daily or chronic pain
  • Adapted to pain over time

What causes scoliosis?

Most scoliosis cases are "idiopathic," which means no known cause. There are a few types of scoliosis seen in adults:

Idiopathic Curve: This is the most commonly seen type of scoliosis.

Congenital Curve: This rare type means the spinal abnormality was present at birth.

Paralytic Curve: Often related to a spinal cord injury, this curve is caused by non-working muscles around the spine.

Myopathic Deformity: Myopathic means that the muscles do not work properly, which can cause atypical curves seen in conditions such as muscular dystrophy, cerebral palsy or polio.

Secondary: Other spinal conditions that affect the vertebrae, such as degeneration, osteoporosis and osteomalacia, can cause scoliosis, known as as “secondary” scoliosis.

Understanding Adult Scoliosis: The Basics, Part I

What is degenerative adult scoliosis?

Also referred to as Adult "De Novo," degenerative scoliosis occurs due to age and deterioration of the spine, which contributes to the development of an atypical or scoliotic curve in the spine. For some patients, most often women, osteoporosis is another contributing factor.

What are the symptoms of degenerative adult scoliosis?

Typically, patients with degenerative adult scoliosis experience low back pain. These patients, who have not been previously diagnosed with scoliosis during adolescent years, wind up at an orthopedist, chiropractor or spine specialist due to the pain, and then are diagnosed with scoliosis. Over time, the increased pressure on nerves, due to the scoliotic curve, can lead to weakness, numbness and pain in the lower extremities. Severe cases can result in the loss of coordination and mobility.

Come back for our follow up post, Understanding Adult Scoliosis: How Chiropractic Can Help, Part II, tomorrow!