Scoliosis is a spine condition that occurs when the spine curves or twists to the side. This can pull the ribcage out of position and put strain on the muscles of the back, causing pain and discomfort.
Scoliosis isn’t a rare condition. About 7 million people in the United States develop some form of scoliosis that could need treatment from a specialist.
Although it often appears in children, scoliosis can develop at any time. People who have this condition may:
- be born with it (congenital)
- develop it as a young child (early onset)
- develop it as an older child or teenager (adolescent idiopathic)
- develop it as an adult (degenerative or de novo)
During the early stages of scoliosis, there may not be many symptoms. This is particularly true in children. Scoliosis can remain undetected until children reach the rapid growth phase in adolescence.
However, it can be difficult to identify in adults, because it’s easy to misinterpret as back pain. This is especially true if you have a milder form of the condition.
Small clues can point toward an abnormal curve in your spine, such as ill-fitting clothes. Other signs of scoliosis include:
- abnormal posture
- uneven hips
- a shoulder blade that’s higher than the other
- a head that isn’t centered on the body
- hips that sit at an angle
- a spine that is visibly not straight
Scoliosis is more likely to cause pain in adults. Scoliosis can result in:
Contact your healthcare provider if you experience any of the following:
- back pain that doesn’t improve after using home treatments for a week
- pain that interferes with your day-to-day activities
- pain that feels as if it’s shooting down your legs
These symptoms may be caused by more advanced scoliosis.
Typically, the pain you experience with adult onset scoliosis is the result of pressure on your spinal disks, pressure on facet joints, and muscle pain. But scoliosis can cause pain for other reasons.
The curvature of the spine can stretch or irritate nerves. It can also strain joints, causing them to become inflamed.
Scoliosis also affects your posture, which leads to muscles tightening or becoming tired, causing pain.
In children, the spinal curve can increase without treatment.
Scoliosis is a complex disorder that needs to be diagnosed by a doctor. Prompt treatment can prevent the curvature of your spine from getting worse.
At your appointment, your doctor will ask you questions about the pain you’re feeling and any other symptoms you’ve noticed.
Your doctor will also ask about your personal medical history. They will also want to know if you have any family history of scoliosis.
Then they will conduct a physical examination. This will include a simple test where you bend forward, arms loose with palms touching. While you’re in this position, the doctor examines your back and ribs to see if they’re uneven.
If your doctor notices a significant spinal curve, they may order an X-ray. This will allow them to precisely measure how curved your spine is. They may also use a scoliometer to see if your spine has rotated.
The best way to treat pain caused by scoliosis is to treat the scoliosis. Depending on the type of pain, there are various pain treatments available to you.
Options in this category include:
- hydrotherapy and massage
- exercise that strengthens your stomach and back muscles, such as Pilates, yoga, swimming, and stretching, which can also help relieve back pain
- certain types of braces to support the spine
Over-the-counter medicines like acetaminophen (Tylenol) and ibuprofen (Advil) may help relieve pain. Talk to your doctor if these medications don’t work. They may prescribe stronger pain medication or refer you to a pain clinic.
Some antidepressants can also be used to relieve pain because they have a direct effect on pain in addition to mood.
Chiropractic treatment may be considered to help decrease pain and increase flexibility. Note that this kind of treatment won’t cure scoliosis but can help alleviate symptoms of pain.
Though research is limited, an
It’s important to find a chiropractor with a specialty in scoliosis. Those who aren’t specialists have the potential to make the condition worse.
Your doctor may refer you to a counselor. Counseling may be helpful for chronic pain, especially when medical treatments aren’t managing pain well.
One type of counseling is called cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). CBT won’t change the amount of pain you feel, but it can help you find ways to cope with it.
A CBT counselor will talk to you about how you manage your pain. The counselor can also help you to develop techniques for dealing with pain.
Injecting steroids around the nerves and spinal joints can help ease pain. However, injections don’t have a long-term benefit. They can be used to combat acute pain or as one part of a pain management program.
Peripheral nerve stimulation
A transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulus device may be helpful for people who are experiencing pain caused by damaged nerves. In this treatment, electrical wires use mild electrical currents on the peripheral nerves near the spinal cord.
Pain caused by scoliosis is more likely to go away if scoliosis is diagnosed early and treated promptly.
Severe spine curvature can cause nerve, muscle, and tissue damage that may be permanent. Pain caused by permanent tissue damage may be long term, and treatment may not be able to fully get rid of your pain.
It may take some time, but by working with your medical team, you can develop a treatment plan that can manage most of your pain.