A sideways curvature of the spine of more than 10 degrees to the left or right isn’t out of the ordinary in children and adolescents, and it’s usually correctable with bracing and periodic observation. Sometimes the curvature of the spine, usually considered a form of idiopathic scoliosis, continues into adulthood. In some cases, the condition develops later in life due to conditions such degenerative disc disease, osteoporosis, or compression fractures. Regardless of when or how it develops, treatment for adults often requires more than observation.
If the curvature of the spine isn’t severe, conservative (non-surgical) treatments are often recommended. Most patients respond well to a combination of conservative pain management techniques. Some experimentation may be needed to determine the right mix of treatments. Additional non-surgical treatments may be explored if symptoms change over time, as may be the case if a degenerative condition affects scoliosis or makes symptoms worse.
Heat can be delivered in the form of moist heat or applied with a heating pad with a barrier underneath to protect the skin. It helps by increasing circulation to the affected area.
Medication to manage scoliosis usually includes non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) to minimize tissue swelling. Muscle relaxants may also be recommended to reduce the risk of muscle spasms. The long-term use of strong pain meds like opiates is not advised due to the risk of addiction.
Physical Therapy and Exercise
Physical therapy for scoliosis in adults can be both passive (done to the patient) or active (the patient participates). The purpose of exercise to manage scoliosis is to enhance posture and strengthen muscles that support the spine. Physical therapy and exercise recommendations may include:
- Range of motion exercises
- Strength training focusing on the core muscle groups
- Manual therapy (massage therapy, chiropractic treatments)
- Modalities (heat/ice, electrical stimulation, ultrasound)
- Functional testing to enhance movement patterns
If conservative treatments are no longer providing sufficient relief or if symptoms are becoming increasingly disruptive, the best option may be spine surgery. Los Angeles surgeons often recommend a spinal procedure if the degree of the curve exceeds 50 degrees. There are two common surgical options for scoliosis:
If nerve compression from a herniated disc is making scoliosis symptoms worse, the central portion of a disc may be removed. The most common discectomy procedure performed today is a microdiscectomy, which involves minimally invasive back surgery. Los Angeles residents often claim this procedure is beneficial.
Removal of bone may be necessary to ease pressure on nerve roots. A fusion is usually performed at the same time to restore stability to the spine. A device called a bone growth stimulator may be used following fusion surgery to encourage healing and bone growth.
Treatment for adults with scoliosis will depend on the severity of the symptoms presented. Back pain, especially in the lower (lumbar) spine is what adults with the condition often experience. A positive diagnosis is made with a full-length X-ray and other image tests. A Cobb angle measurement assessment may be done to determine the degree of the curvature. Unless symptoms are severe (chronic low back pain, deformity) or potentially life-threatening (bowel/bladder dysfunction, decreased heart and lung function due to a mid-back curve), surgery is rarely required to manage adult scoliosis.
If you think you might have scoliosis or another serious spine condition, turn to Dr. Bae at The Spine Institute in Los Angeles. From spinal decompression to cervical foraminotomy, Los Angeles patients have many options for alleviating pain with the help of our trusted surgeons. If you’d like to set up an in-person evaluation, please call 310-828-7757 today.