Have you ever heard of getting scoliosis when you are 70 years old? That's what happened to me. I thought this was something teenagers got. Can you explain how I got it?

Scoliosis is a curvature of the spine that can affect any part of the back from neck to sacrum. The lumbar (low back) area is affected most often in older adults. And it's a fairly common problem after age 65. X-ray studies show that more than half of older adults tested have degenerative changes of the spine with scoliosis.

The problem in older adults begins with the effects of aging on the bony structures, discs, ligaments, joints, and muscles. Bone loss and joint osteoarthritis so common with aging result in wedging of the vertebrae. The discs start to collapse. The ligaments get thicker.

All of these changes can cause the bones to slip sideways and start to twist or rotate. At the same time, the altered position of the spine puts pressure on the spinal nerves. The result can be back and/or leg pain. Surprisingly, X-rays studies often show much worse degeneration than the symptoms would suggest.

The type of scoliosis you may be experiencing from age-related changes is called degenerative scoliosis. It's not clear yet what happens with this condition. Some patients get worse over time. Others stay the same. Treatment is to address the pain and improve function. Surgery may be an option when all else fails but it's not the first choice.

Avraam Ploumis, MD, et al. In The Spine Journal. July/August 2007. Vol. 7. No. 4. Pp. 428-436.



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