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Adult Scoliosis and Spinal Curvatures

Scoliosis is a side-to-side curve of your spine. The vertebrae (spinal bones) should look like a straight line when viewed from the back, but scoliosis creates an “S” shape. Scoliosis is most common in children and teens but can also affect adults. 

In addition to scoliosis, we also treat: 

  • Lordosis: Lordosis is the natural inward curve in the lower back. But sometimes lordosis becomes too pronounced and causes problems. Lordosis is also called swayback. 
  • Kyphosis: Kyphosis is an abnormally rounded upper back, like a reverse “C.” Sometimes people use the terms “roundback” or “hunchback” to describe this condition.
  • Flatback syndrome: This occurs when your lower back loses its natural curve and becomes flat over time, often due to another spine surgery.

Adult scoliosis treatment in the Puget Sound: Why choose us?

Surgical scoliosis treatment can be complex because a curvature can affect more than one segment of your spine. Our Spine Program surgeons routinely perform challenging, multilevel spine surgeries to treat scoliosis and other spinal curvatures. 

We collaborate with orthopedic surgeons, neurosurgeons, radiologists and any other specialists you may need. This multidisciplinary approach ensures you receive complete care.

Types of spinal irregularities

Spinal curvatures or other irregularities can be:

  • Congenital: Some people are born with a curve in their spine. The curve may be mild or severe. It can get worse in adulthood. 
  • Degenerative: Degenerative spinal curvatures tend to happen in adults. They can result from poor posture, osteoporosis, osteoarthritis or spinal degeneration (spondylosis)
  • Idiopathic: Idiopathic curvatures happen without a known cause. Idiopathic scoliosis is the most common type of spine curve to affect adolescents and teens. 
  • Neuromuscular: Spinal cord injuries or diseases such as cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy or spina bifida can lead to curvatures.

Symptoms of spinal irregularities

Mild spinal curvatures may not cause any symptoms. More pronounced misalignment can cause uneven shoulders or hips. 

These problems may affect walking, posture or joint movement. Degenerative scoliosis is the most likely to cause symptoms because other spine conditions often accompany this type of curvature. 

Symptoms of degenerative spinal curvatures may include: 

  • Inability to stand upright
  • Spine pain, usually in the low back or neck
  • Radiculopathy, which is radiating nerve pain (also called a pinched nerve)
  • Tingling or a pins-and-needles sensation in your back

Spinal curvature diagnosis

Scoliosis, abnormal lordosis, kyphosis and flatback syndrome usually are visible during a physical exam. Your doctor may ask you to perform certain movements to check your reflexes, nerve function, range of motion and strength. But determining the exact extent of a spinal curvature usually requires imaging exams. 

Your doctor may order the following tests: 

  • X-ray: An X-ray uses radiation to produce pictures of your vertebrae. An X-ray shows the shape of your spine, the degree of curvature and any problems with your vertebrae, such as fractures or dislocations.
  • CT scan: A CT scan shows your spine in more detail than an X-ray. We may use this test to assess your spinal cord, intervertebral discs and the soft tissues around your spine. Your doctor may also use CT scans to plan spine surgery.
  • MRI: An MRI also produces highly detailed images of your spine, especially the spinal nerves. If you need frequent imaging scans for your condition, MRIs are safer than X-rays because they don’t use radiation.

Treatment for spinal irregularities

The experts at our Spine Program take the most conservative approach possible when treating scoliosis, abnormal lordosis or kyphosis. You may not need treatment if a spinal curvature isn’t severe. We monitor your condition for changes and do periodic imaging exams. 

We draw on a wide range of non-surgical and surgical treatments if you are experiencing symptoms. Our goal is to alleviate your symptoms and improve your quality of life.

  • Most people can manage mild symptoms with a combination of non-surgical treatments such as: 

    • Bracing (usually for children whose spines are still developing)
    • Over-the-counter pain relievers
    • Physical therapy, stretching and strengthening exercises
    • Spine injections, such as epidural injections or nerve blocks
  • People with severe spinal curvatures or those whose quality of life is drastically affected may need surgery. Spinal fusion with bone grafting is the most common procedure for spinal curvatures.

  • During spinal fusion, your surgeon straightens the curved section of your spine with rods and screws. They remove the spongy cartilage pads between your vertebrae and replace them with bone grafts. Over time, the grafts fuse with your vertebrae to form a solid segment of bone. 

    Fusion for a spinal curvature is a complex procedure. It requires a skilled surgeon with extensive training and expertise. At our Spine Program, we routinely perform this type of spine surgery with excellent outcomes. We also offer revision surgeries for people who had scoliosis surgery as children but require adjustments.

Contact us

Contact us to learn more about the Spine Program or to schedule an appointment with a specialist.