4 Scoliosis Questions Answered

With tried-and-true treatment options available for both children and adults, scoliosis doesn’t have to come between you and a happy, healthy life. This list may not cover all your scoliosis questions, so keep the lines of communication open with your medical team and reach out to them about your specific scoliosis care plan.

questions and answers graphic

#1. What causes scoliosis?
Because there are different types of scoliosis, there are different causes. The types of scoliosis are:

  • Idiopathic scoliosis: Infantile, juvenile, adolescent, and adult types of idiopathic scoliosis are the most common forms of scoliosis. Eighty percent of scoliosis cases are idiopathic, which means "occurring without known cause."
  • Congenital scoliosis: With congenital scoliosis, there is a malformation of the spine in utero (within the womb), so a child is born with this type of scoliosis.
  • Neuromuscular scoliosis: Children with a neurological system disorder, like muscular dystrophy, can develop neuromuscular scoliosis. Because they have a weak trunk and can't support the weight of their body, their spine starts to curve, generally into a long, “C”-shaped curve.
  • Syndromic scoliosis develops as part of an underlying syndrome or disorder that may be genetic. Marfan syndrome and muscular dystrophy are examples.

#2. Can adults have scoliosis? 
Although scoliosis is most commonly associated with children, adults can develop it, too. In some cases, they have actually had it their whole lives, but it has gone unnoticed or untreated until it started to cause pain or other problems. In other cases, age-related changes in the spine, such as disc degeneration, lead to scoliosis.

  • Adult degenerative scoliosis: Sometimes scoliosis goes unnoticed or untreated during childhood. In that situation, the scoliosis may cause problems later in adult life. Degenerative or age-related spinal changes can also cause scoliosis in adults. Osteoporosis, disc degeneration, spinal compression fracture, or a combination of these problems can contribute to the development of adult scoliosis.

#3. What nonsurgical treatments are available for scoliosis?
The doctor develops a treatment plan that considers the child's age, number of remaining growing years, curve pattern, curve size, likely rate of curve progression, and appearance. He or she will then recommend observation or bracing.For children with scoliosis, there are two main nonsurgical options:

  • Curve observation: Most young patients with idiopathic scoliosis will see their doctor every three to four months so the doctor can monitor the curve.
  • Bracing is the most common treatment for adolescents with curves greater than 20-degrees and at least two years of growth remaining. Bracing may slow or stop the curve from getting larger and improve spinal deformity.

Nonsurgical treatment of adult scoliosis is different than childhood scoliosis. The adult spine is mature and bracing will not stop or help to realign the spine. The adult patient with scoliosis may be advised to use moist heat, perform stretching and strengthening exercises, and take over-the-counter or prescription medication to reduce inflammation and pain.

#4. What are the surgical options for children and adults with scoliosis?
Doctors recommend scoliosis surgery for a child if their curve(s) are progressive and greater than 40-degrees in size. Surgery for adult scoliosis is considered based on the size of the curve, it's cause, and neurological dysfunction (eg, pain). Surgical goals include:

  • Stop the curve from getting worse
  • Restore the spine to a more normal alignment and appearance
  • Address any back pain, or heart or lung function problems caused by the scoliosis

Spinal fusion with spinal instrumentation is the most common surgical procedure for scoliosis. Instrumentation may include implants such as rods, hooks, screws, spacers, and cages.

rods and screws implanted into the spine

The surgery may involve removing one or more discs and bone to help balance the spine. Fusion and instrumentation is performed to stabilize the spine. The patient's own bone and/or bone graft is packed into and around the instrumentation to help stimulate bones to grow together or fuse.

Updated on: 02/23/17
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Common Questions about Scoliosis Surgery

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