How to Ease Degenerative Scoliosis

Degenerative Scoliosis
Degenerative Scoliosis

Have you or a loved one been navigating the twists and turns of degenerative scoliosis? It’s a journey that many find themselves on unexpectedly, often later life. It’s a condition characterized by the curvature of the spine as a result of wear and tear on the spine’s components, can significantly impact one’s quality of life. But, with advancements in medical research, there are now more ways than ever to ease the discomfort and manage the symptoms associated with this condition. In this article we’ll look into the risk factors, symptoms and ways to manage it.

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What is Degenerative Scoliosis?

Degenerative scoliosis occurs when the spinal discs and joints begin to deteriorate over time due to age. This degeneration can lead to a side-to-side curvature of the spine. Unlike its adolescent counterpart, degenerative scoliosis is often accompanied by spinal stenosis, which is a narrowing of the spaces within your spine, and can result in nerve pain and discomfort.

As we age, our bodies naturally go through changes, and for some, this includes the wear and tear of the spine’s components. This process can cause the vertebrae to tilt and shift, leading to the spine’s curvature. It’s a condition that’s more common than many realize. According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, scoliosis, in general, affects 2-3% of the population, with a higher incidence rate in adults over 65 years of age.

Degenerative Scoliosis Causes

The condition doesn’t have a single cause, but results from a combination of age-related changes in the spine. As we grow older, the cumulative effects of wear and tear on the spinal discs and joints can lead to the development of this condition. The main factors contributing to this condition include:

  • Age-related Degeneration: The discs between the vertebrae lose hydration and elasticity with age, becoming less able to resist forces, which can lead to disc degeneration and, subsequently, scoliosis.
  • Osteoporosis: This condition weakens bones and can make the vertebrae more susceptible to shifting, which contributes to the curvature of the spine.
  • Spinal Stenosis: The narrowing of the spinal canal can put pressure on the spinal cord and nerves, contributing to the symptoms.
  • Previous Spinal Injury: An injury to the spine can alter its alignment and integrity, potentially leading to degenerative changes over time.
  • Genetic Factors: While not as directly linked as in adolescent scoliosis, genetics may play a role in an individual’s susceptibility to degeneration of the spine.

Identifying Symptoms

Recognizing the symptoms can be vital for early intervention and management. Symptoms can vary among individuals, ranging from mild discomfort to severe pain and physical disability. Some of the key symptoms include:

  • Uneven Shoulders or Waist: One of the most visible signs, where one shoulder or hip appears higher than the other, or the waist seems uneven.
  • Visible Curve in the Spine: In more pronounced cases, a noticeable lateral curve in the spine can be seen.
  • Back Pain: Chronic back pain that worsens with activity can be a prominent symptom, often due to the degenerative changes in the spine.
  • Stiffness and Reduced Mobility: The spine’s curvature and associated degeneration can lead to stiffness and a reduction in the spine’s range of motion.
  • Numbness, Cramping, or Weakness: These symptoms can occur if the spinal curvature compresses nerves, potentially affecting the legs and leading to difficulties in walking or standing for long periods.

The onset of symptoms is typically gradual and may worsen over time without appropriate management. If you notice any of these symptoms, particularly if you are over the age of 50, it’s important to consult a healthcare professional for a thorough evaluation. Early diagnosis and treatment can significantly help manage the symptoms and improve quality of life for those affected.

Treatment Options

Managing this condition involves a multifaceted approach tailored to the individual’s specific symptoms, degree of curvature, and overall health. The primary goal is to relieve pain, improve function, and enhance quality of life. Here are several treatment options:

Physical Therapy

Physical therapy stands as a cornerstone in the management of adult degenerative scoliosis. It aims to strengthen the muscles surrounding the spine, improve flexibility, and enhance posture, which can help alleviate pain and prevent further progression of the curvature. A physical therapist can design a personalized exercise program that addresses the unique needs of each individual. Exercises often focus on:

  • Strengthening: Targeting the back, abdominal, and leg muscles to support and stabilize the spine.
  • Stretching Routines: To maintain flexibility in the spine and surrounding muscles, helping to relieve stiffness and pain.
  • Postural Training: Educating patients on correct posture to reduce strain on the spine, both during daily activities and while at rest.
  • Pain Management Techniques: Including heat and cold therapy, electrical stimulation, and ultrasound to reduce pain and inflammation.

Physical therapy not only helps manage symptoms but also improves overall function, making daily activities more manageable and less painful.

Bracing

While bracing is more commonly used in adolescents with scoliosis to prevent further curvature of the spine, it can sometimes be helpful for adults experiencing significant pain or for those with a progressing curve. Braces can provide support, reduce pain, and help improve posture, although they are typically not used as a long-term solution.

Injections

For those with severe pain not relieved by other means, corticosteroid injections may be an option. These injections can reduce inflammation around the spinal nerves, providing temporary relief from pain and discomfort.

Surgery

Surgery for degenerative scoliosis is considered a last resort and is typically only recommended when conservative treatments have failed to relieve symptoms, or if the spinal curvature is causing significant nerve compression.

Lifestyle Modifications

In addition to medical treatments, making lifestyle adjustments can play a significant role in managing the condition. Maintaining a healthy weight, quitting smoking, and engaging in regular, low-impact exercise such as walking, swimming, or cycling can help reduce the strain on the spine and improve overall health.

Alternative Therapies

Some individuals find relief through alternative therapies such as acupuncture or massage therapy. While these treatments may help manage symptoms for some, they should be pursued in consultation with a healthcare provider to ensure they are appropriate for your specific condition.

Ways to Ease It

Managing the symptoms involve a combination of professional healthcare guidance, self-care, and lifestyle modifications. The focus is on improving spinal health, reducing pain, and enhancing mobility. Here are some effective strategies:

Exercise and Physical Therapy

Exercise and physical therapy are among the most beneficial ways to manage this condition. Here’s how they can help:

  • Core Strengthening: Engaging in exercises that strengthen the core muscles, including the abdominals, back, and pelvic muscles, provides better support for the spine. Stronger core muscles can lead to reduced pain and improved posture.
  • Flexibility Exercises: Regularly stretching the muscles surrounding the spine increases flexibility, decreases stiffness, and improves range of motion. Yoga and Pilates are excellent for enhancing flexibility and strength with low impact on the spine.
  • Aerobic Conditioning: Low-impact aerobic exercises, such as walking, swimming, or cycling, improve cardiovascular health without putting excessive strain on the spine. These activities can also help in weight management, which is crucial in reducing the load on the spine.
  • Targeted Physical Therapy: A physical therapist can tailor exercises to your specific condition, focusing on reducing the curvature of the spine and strengthening weak areas. They can also provide manual therapies and modalities to ease pain and improve function.

Pain Management Techniques

Effective pain management is key to improving quality of life. Various techniques can be employed to manage and reduce pain:

  • Heat and Cold Therapy: Applying heat can relax tight muscles and enhance blood flow to the affected area, reducing pain and stiffness. Cold therapy, on the other hand, can reduce inflammation and numb sore areas.
  • Electrical Stimulation: Techniques like TENS (Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation) use low-voltage electrical currents to relieve pain. This method can be particularly effective for nerve-related pain.
  • Mind-Body Techniques: Practices such as meditation, deep breathing exercises, and biofeedback can help manage pain by reducing stress and promoting relaxation. Learning to control the body’s response to pain can be a powerful tool in long-term management.
  • Lifestyle Modifications: Simple changes in daily life, like using ergonomic furniture, practicing good posture, and avoiding activities that strain the back, can significantly reduce pain and discomfort.
  • Regular Check-ups: Keeping up with regular medical appointments allows for ongoing assessment of the condition and adjustments to the treatment plan as needed.

Ready to Get Relief From Back Pain?

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Andrew Vertson

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