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Scoliosis in Adults: A Spine Specialist Answers 5 Top Questions

You probably remember someone in middle school or high school who wore a back brace to treat their scoliosis. Scoliosis is a condition where the spine curves from side to side. In adolescents, wearing a brace can often realign the spine.

While adolescents are more likely to develop scoliosis, it affects adults, too. Ali Baaj, MD, chief of spine surgery at Banner—University Medicine Neurosurgery Clinic in Phoenix, AZ, answers some common questions about scoliosis in adults.

What causes scoliosis in adults?

In some cases, a person may have had scoliosis in childhood, only to find that it returns and worsens when they are an adult. More often, scoliosis develops from the wear and tear on your vertebrae, discs, and joints over time.

How is scoliosis different in adults?

With adolescents, doctors don’t usually know what causes scoliosis. Adolescents rarely have pain or neurological problems that stem from scoliosis unless the spinal curve is severe. For small spinal curves in adolescents, doctors may just keep an eye on the spine to make sure the curve doesn’t get worse. If it does, a back brace could be enough to prevent the curve from worsening.

As an adult, on the other hand, you will typically have back, hip, or leg pain because of your scoliosis. You may lean forward or to one side. The spinal curve can also put pressure on the nerves in your lower back.

Lots of adults have back pain. How do doctors know it’s scoliosis?

Doctors start by taking a thorough history of your symptoms and a physical exam. If they suspect scoliosis, they’ll take x-rays to confirm the diagnosis. X-rays can also help identify whether the scoliosis is mild, moderate or severe.

How is scoliosis treated in adults?

Unlike adolescents, a brace is rarely effective for adults. If you have a mild curve, you can try pain management strategies and physical therapy. If you have a more severe curve you will likely need corrective surgery to realign the spinal column so you can stand up and walk straighter.

If I’m concerned I might have scoliosis, what should I do?

Discuss your symptoms and your concerns with your doctor. Scoliosis in adults usually gets worse, and it can be debilitating. Finding it and managing it early will be crucial for the best outcome, whether that involves surgery or less-invasive treatment options.

If you’re living with back pain, an orthopedic specialist or your primary care doctor can help you identify what’s causing your pain and get you started with a treatment plan. To find a Banner Health care provider, visit bannerhealth.com.

For more information about back health, check out:

Imaging Orthopedics

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