Does Scoliosis Get Worse Over Time?

Scoliosis is an excessive sideways curvature of the spine. There are a few different types of scoliosis, including:

  • Idiopathic - The most common form of scoliosis usually appears during adolescence. The cause is not known, although it is thought to be genetic.

  • Congenital - This form of scoliosis occurs from birth due to the baby's bones not developing properly in the womb.

  • Degenerative - Degenerative scoliosis occurs with age and the deterioration of the vertebrae in the spine.

 

Will my scoliosis get worse over time?

Being diagnosed with any form of scoliosis is difficult, and it’s natural to wonder if your spinal curve will progress in the future. Unfortunately, the answer is very often yes - if scoliosis is left without treatment, it will usually get progressively worse over time unless the patient seeks treatment for their condition.

Especially in younger patients whose bodies are still growing, it is very likely that - without intervention - the degree of the curvature will increase as time goes on. This is due to the asymmetrical loading of the vertebrae on one side limiting bone growth in this area. In these cases, bracing is usually recommended to stunt the progression of the curve; if necessary, spinal fusion surgery may be recommended once the patient has stopped growing.

 

Can scoliosis progress even in adulthood?

It is a common misconception that, as the patient reaches adulthood and their body stops growing, scoliosis cannot progress any further. This is untrue; while the change may occur at a slower pace in a mature adult than in a child or adolescent, a scoliosis curvature can still progress by one to three degrees per year.

 

What can I do to stop scoliosis getting worse over time?

Luckily, mild to moderate cases of scoliosis do not typically require surgical intervention. If the right steps are taken before the curve progresses too far, it is possible to improve the degree of curvature and your quality of life without undergoing an operation.

The progression of a scoliotic spinal curve can be halted via a number of measures, such as:

  • Soft and hard bracing
  • Postural improvement
  • Physical therapy to improve muscle balance

Here at the Scoliosis SOS Clinic in London, our ambition is to help those suffering with scoliosis to improve their condition over time. We aim to reduce the degree of the curvature, reduce pain, improve flexibility, and boost the patient’s overall quality of life. We do this through a combination of different physical therapy treatments on our 4-week ScolioGold courses.

Contact Scoliosis SOS to book a consultation with one of our scoliosis experts.

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How Fast Does Scoliosis Progress?
 
One of the worst things about scoliosis (sideways curvature of the spine) is the fact that, very often, the condition becomes more and more pronounced as time goes by. A curve that is barely noticeable to begin with can become seriously problematic and disfiguring if left untreated for long enough.
 
But how long does it take for a spinal curve to reach that point? How quickly does scoliosis progress, and how long can you safely go without treatment?

As usual, every case is different.

Unfortunately, there is no hard and fast answer to either of the above questions. Some spinal curves don't progress at all after a certain point, while others progress very rapidly and continue to do so until action is taken.
 
Let's take a look at the most common form of scoliosis - idiopathic scoliosis. In most cases of idiopathic scoliosis, the curve develops around the time the patient hits puberty, then continues to progress throughout their adolescence until their spine has finished growing (usually at age 16-18). However, the rate of progression can vary greatly from one person to the next, and there's no guarantee that the progression will cease as soon as the patient stops growing. No two cases are alike!
 
Things get even more complicated when you take into account all the other different forms of scoliosis. While most cases of scoliosis are idiopathic (i.e. lacking a clear underlying cause), the condition can also be triggered by any number of other factors, from neuromuscular diseases to the human body's natural ageing process. The type of scoliosis you have makes a huge difference to the speed at which your condition progresses (if indeed it progresses at all).

How to stop a spinal curve from progressing

Once scoliosis has been diagnosed, there are a number of different ways to prevent it from progressing any further. For some patients - particularly young children with very mild scoliosis - medical practitioners may simply recommend observation (closely monitoring the spinal curve and watching for changes) as the best way forward. However, in most cases, one or more of the following treatment methods will be used:
  • Bracing - The patient wears a rigid plastic back brace to effectively hold their spine in place and prevent it from becoming any more curved than it already is.

  • Spinal Fusion Surgery - A surgical procedure where metal rods are used to anchor the spine in place.

  • Physical Therapy - A non-invasive approach that uses stretches and exercises to correct the curvature and prevent further progression.
ScolioGold therapy, which we use to treat curved spines here at the Scoliosis SOS Clinic, is an example of the third treatment method. To read more about ScolioGold and the use of physical therapy to treat scoliosis, please click here.
Scoliosis Prognosis
 

It is very difficult to predict the course that any given case of scoliosis will take. The condition's symptoms and rate of progression can vary significantly, and much depends on the severity of the spinal curve and whether or not it threatens the patient's vital organs. In most cases of scoliosis, the condition is diagnosed during adolescence; however, it can be hard to estimate how severe the spinal curve will become as the patient continues to grow, and the eventual outcome cannot ever be known for certain.  

 
The vast majority of spinal growth takes place within the first 5 years of a person's life and in the adolescent growth spurt that occurs during puberty. Therefore, the spinal growth of children with scoliosis in these age groups should be closely monitored. If action is made early on to reduce the spinal curve and promote healthy spinal growth, the prognosis usually improves.
 
However, if the condition isn't monitored and gets left untreated, the spinal curve may begin to severely threaten the patient's health. As well as the visual symptoms of scoliosis (such as uneven shoulders and hips), the patient may begin to develop back pain, and their spinal curve may start to put pressure on the nerves and even the entire spinal cord. This will lead to weakness, numbness, and pain in the lower region of the patient's spine; also, if the pressure is too severe, it may cause the patient to lose control / coordination of their leg muscles, making it difficult to walk normally.
 
Finally, if the chest becomes deformed due to the spinal condition, the lungs and heart may be affected, potentially leading to breathing problems, fatigue, and even heart failure. Thankfully, these symptoms can easily be prevented if the condition is monitored and interventions are made before the spinal curve can progress.
 
If you or your child suffer from scoliosis, please contact Scoliosis SOS and book an initial consultation with our scoliosis consultants. We will then be able to recommend the best course of action to ensure that your scoliosis prognosis is as positive as possible.
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