Adult scoliosis begins with degeneration of the discs of the spine, which then results in arthritis of the spinal joints. It's important to note that having scoliosis as an adolescent is not a prerequisite to having it as an adult. The arthritis does not occur symmetrically, and results in a spinal curve which may twist the spine 3 dimensionally. On an x-ray of a front or rear view of the spine it looks like an "S" or a "C" shape rather than a straight line. The condition is sometimes noticeable overtly, but sometimes it may not be. Scoliosis can make the waist or shoulders look uneven.
The prevalence of scoliosis in the adult population has been reported as ranging from 2% to 32%; a recent study targeting elderly volunteers showed a prevalence of more than 60%. The prevalence of degenerative scoliosis ranges from 6% to 68%
The curves may increase in size from 0.5 degrees to 2 degrees a year on average. While this may not sound like a lot, over a few decades it can add up considerably.
Patients with adult degenerative scoliosis often experience both back and leg pain. The reason is the spinal arthritis causes back pain, while the spinal stenosis may lead to buttock and leg pain. Spinal stenosis is when nerves get pinched due to the spinal arthritis leading to bony and soft tissue overgrowth. This is very different than adolescent scoliosis, where pain occurs in only 15% of patients and is usually not that severe. In adults, it can be incapacitating at times.
If you suspect you may have scoliosis see Adult Treatment for Scoliosis in Mesa's doctors who will likely perform physical examination, imaging tests, such as x-rays taken from side, and front views from which the degree of the curve is measured. An MRI can help show the extent of spinal stenosis.
It should be noted that the severity of adult scoliosis on imaging studies does not correlate directly with the severity of symptoms. Even relatively minor looking arthritis on imaging studies may cause severe pain, and vice versa.
Most adults with scoliosis are able to be managed successfully without surgery. Most cases of adult scoliosis do well with treatments that may include Adult Treatment for Scoliosis in Mesa's :