Scoliosis through life
 
While scoliosis is typically diagnosed during adolescence, the condition can also lead to complications later in life, particularly when left untreated. Most cases of spinal curvature are treated before any major complications occur; if left untreated, however, there is a chance that scoliosis may lead to more serious problems for the patient in question. Some people who undergo spinal fusion surgery for scoliosis also experience complications later in life.
 

What complications can occur later in life if scoliosis is left untreated?

If scoliosis is left untreated for long periods of time, it can lead to chronic pain and a variety of other complications. Most of the symptoms listed below will only occur after the patient's scoliosis has reached an advanced degree of curvature, and can usually be avoided as long as the condition is treated in a timely manner:
  • Breathing problems
If scoliosis is left untreated for many years, the increasing curvature of the spine can cause the ribs to restrict lung capacity. This can lead to shortness of breath.
  • Leg pain
Advanced cases of scoliosis can cause one leg to appear shorter than the other due to misalignment of the hips. This can change the patient's posture and gait (how they walk), which in turn causes the muscles to tire sooner due to over-compensation to maintain balance.
  • Cardiovascular problems
If the curvature of the spine reaches a particularly severe point, the restriction of the rib cage can lead to heart problems. In the most severe cases, this may even lead to heart failure; however, this only occurs in a tiny minority of cases.
  • Lumbar stenosis
While scoliosis is unlikely to cause any severe neurological problems no matter how old you are, it is associated with lumbar stenosis. Lumbar stenosis is the narrowing of the spinal canal, which can ultimately lead to nerve complications, weakness or leg pain.
 

Post-surgery complications

When surgery is conducted on (or near) the spine, there is always a possibility of short-term or long-term complications. In the case of scoliosis, spinal fusion surgery can sometimes lead to the following complications in later life:
  • Flat-back deformity
After surgery to rectify scoliosis, the natural 'C'-shaped sagittal curve of the lower back may be lost. This is due to the vertebrae in the lumbar spine fusing together, thus eliminating the natural curvature. This deformity typically appears later in life, sometime between the ages of 30 and 50.
  • Transitional syndrome
When the spine is working correctly, each segment shares the weight and stress of everyday movement and activities. However, when one or more segments are not working correctly, the others have to take on more stress to account for this. This means that, if your vertebrae are fused together, the closest vertebrae to the fusion site will begin to take on more stress and may ultimately become damaged over time.
 
 
Scoliosis can cause many complications later in life, but if you seek treatment before your spine deteriorates too far, many of these issues can be nipped in the bud and avoided altogether. Surgery is not your only option when it comes to improving the curvature of your spine - here at Scoliosis SOS, we provide non-surgical treatment courses that have shown to be very effective indeed.
 
To discuss scoliosis treatment options, please book a consultation - this can be conducted over the phone, via Skype, or in person at our clinic in London.

While scoliosis usually starts to develop during puberty, it is not unheard of for the condition to arise far later in life. We frequently treat elderly scoliosis sufferers here at the Scoliosis SOS Clinic, and whereas our younger patients usually have what's known as idiopathic scoliosis (a progressive spinal curvature with no apparent cause), scoliosis in older people almost always occurs as the result of another, underlying condition.

Very often, that underlying condition is osteoporosis.
 
Osteoporosis vs. Normal Bone Density

What is osteoporosis?

Osteoporosis is a weakening of the bones that commonly occurs in later life. As we age, our bones naturally lose mass and become more fragile, although this process happens more quickly in some people than others. You are particularly at risk of osteoporosis if:
  • You are going through, or have already experienced, the menopause (reduced oestrogen levels often lead to a rapid decrease in bone mass, particularly when the menopause occurs before the age of 45)
  • You have a very low BMI
  • You drink and/or smoke heavily
  • You don't get enough calcium and vitamin D in your diet
  • Osteoporosis runs in your family
  • You don't get enough exercise
  • You have had your ovaries removed (e.g. due to ovarian cancer)
  • You have been taking certain medications (such as corticosteroids) for an extended period of time

Symptoms of osteoporosis

Osteoporosis doesn't have any symptoms in and of itself, but it is problematic because weak bones are far easier to break. Reduced bone mass can easily be identified via an X-ray or DEXA bone mineral density scan; however, many osteoporosis sufferers remain unaware of their condition until they break a bone (usually a hip, wrist, rib or vertebra).
 
Increased risk of fracture isn't the only issue that can arise due to osteoporosis. When the bones in the spine lose their strength and density, the spine can begin to slip into a curved position as it becomes too weak to support the weight of your upper body. This is how many osteoporosis sufferers end up suffering from hyperkyphosis (a forward curvature of the spine) or scoliosis (a sideways curvature of the spine).
 
Osteoporosis & Curvature of the Spine

Treating osteoporosis and osteoporosis-related scoliosis

Once osteoporosis has been diagnosed - and again, this often doesn't happen until after the patient has suffered a fracture - the condition can sometimes be managed using medication that helps to strengthen the patient's bones. Doctors may also recommend dietary/lifestyle changes to help slow the deterioration of the bones, and certain measures can be taken to reduce the risk of a fracture (e.g. removing household hazards that may result in a fall).
 
When scoliosis arises as the result of osteoporosis, it can be treated in a number of different ways. Some patients will undergo surgery to correct their spinal curvature, but it is usually possible to manage the condition with physical therapy - eliminating the need for surgical intervention.
 
Located in the City of London, the Scoliosis SOS Clinic treats scoliosis and hyperkyphosis sufferers using the ScolioGold method (a combination of specially selected non-surgical treatment techniques). Click here to see the results that this approach can achieve for elderly patients, or contact Scoliosis SOS now to arrange a consultation.
Scoliosis can impact anyone at any time of life, but the condition can be especially challenging in older patients. This is due in part to the increased chance of additional diseases or disorders - such as osteoporosis - being present.


Scoliosis most commonly affects adolescents (most cases are diagnosed between the ages of 10 and 15), and the cause is not usually known. However, in older patients, scoliosis often materialises due to asymmetric degeneration that wears through the body's facet joints and intervertebral discs. This has a very distinct appearance on X-rays, and the resulting spinal curvature tend to be very steep, with sideways slippage of the bone in the middle (called a lateral listhesis); this is usually caused by the weakening of fibres in the discs. Canal stenosis - the narrowing of holes in spinal nerves - is another common occurrence in degenerative scoliosis, which can often lead to pain that radiates down into the hips and legs.

How can we treat scoliosis in older people? 

Available scoliosis treatment options can become somewhat limited in later life. Back braces tend to be less effective, and it can be difficult for older patients to go through and recover from surgery. It is not guaranteed that surgery will 'fix' the problem for good, and there is a high possibility of the patient experiencing pain and reduced mobility and flexibility post-operation.

Instead, we at the Scoliosis SOS Clinic treat the condition using our own unique combination of exercise-based techniques; we call this the ScolioGold method. By using our own treatment regime, we are able to offer patients an unrivalled level of treatment success; we have an expert team of consultants and physiotherapists on-site, and we are continually monitoring and developing our method in order to ensure that it continues to deliver top results. We have treated many elderly patients, helping them to overcome the effects of scoliosis without the need for a back brace or surgical intervention.

One such patient is 75-year-old Brenda Kenyon from Cheshire, who didn't even know she had scoliosis until 2010. She has now been attending the Scoliosis SOS Clinic for 6 years, and we'll let Brenda tell the rest of the story herself:


To see what we can achieve when treating scoliosis in older people, please click here. If you are interested in attending one of our 4-week treatment courses yourself, please get in touch with us to book your initial consultation.
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