by Dr. Joshua Herzog

When scoliosis happens to adults, surgery can help

Linda Stransky suffered from back pain most of her adult life. But she didn’t realize how advanced her condition was until she sought care from an orthopedic surgery practice affiliated with Johnston-Willis Hospital.

“The orthopedic surgeon showed me an X-ray of my spine, and said I had scoliosis, which was news to me,” says Linda, who is now 72 years old. “He also explained that if I didn’t have surgery, I would be in a wheelchair before too long.”

Linda had been managing her back pain with over-the-counter pain relievers, steroid injections and exercise for decades. But the pain in her hips, lower back and shoulders had worsened over the years. She was stooped over, and walking and sitting were difficult. “My husband and I love to travel, but it was impossible—I just couldn’t enjoy myself,” Linda says. “When the orthopedic surgeon, Dr. Joshua Herzog, asked me what my pain level was on a scale of one to 10, I said 10.”

What is adult scoliosis?

Many of us associate scoliosis with the teenage years. But adults can get a form of scoliosis, too. Called “adult-onset” or “degenerative” scoliosis, it results in a sideways, “S”–shaped curve of the spine. The primary cause is the natural wear-and-tear of the aging process, as well as arthritis within the joints of the spine.

About 80% of adults with degenerative scoliosis find relief through non-surgical strategies such as:

  • Physical therapy
  • Chiropractic care
  • Epidural or nerve block injections
  • Acupuncture
  • Massage therapy
  • Yoga
  • Exercises to strengthen the abdominal muscles and back
  • Over-the-counter pain relievers

Dr. Herzog, who specializes in spine surgery, recommended that Linda have fusion surgery and inpatient physical rehabilitation. “Dr. Herzog didn’t want me to get my hopes up about being able to fix everything, but he did say he could probably get my pain level to a two or three out of 10,” she explains. “That sounded good enough to me.”

The surgery involves attaching metal screws and other surgical hardware to the bones that are out of alignment. Rods are then connected to these implants to hold the spine in a corrected position. Within a few months, new bone grows around the metal implants, and the vertebrae fuse together permanently.

A better-than-expected outcome

As it turns out, Linda’s surgery and recovery went much better than expected. “I don’t have any back pain at all unless it’s rainy or cold, and my quality of life is so much better,” she explains. “I don’t stoop anymore–in fact I’m two inches taller than I used to be!”

If you are experiencing back pain or other spine-related issues, a spine surgeon can help by providing a thorough evaluation and a personalized treatment plan. To find an orthopedic surgeon near you, visit our physician directory.