NWI surgeon on how to treat adult scoliosis - December 16, 2016

Courtesy of The Times of Northwest Indiana  • December 16, 2016

By Dr. Ashish Patel, Methodist Hospitals

Scoliosis is well-known as the most common spinal condition among children and adolescents. However, many people do not know that scoliosis affects adults in greater numbers. In fact, a 2005 study conducted by Dr. Frank Schwab at Maimonides Medical Center in New York found scoliosis in two-thirds of people over the age of 60.

Adult scoliosis, better known as adult spinal deformity, is often caused by arthritis of the spine, a degeneration of the facet joints, which are small, stabilizing joints around the vertebrae. Adult spinal deformity can result in a side-to-side curvature of the spine or a flattened back leading to a stooped posture.

When I first entered the orthopedics field, I was interested in spinal deformities and their effects on young people. It was the reason I chose a career in spine surgery. I was fascinated to learn that scoliosis not only affected the growing population, children and adolescents, but also the aging population. Unfortunately, spinal deformities in the adult population often result in symptoms of pain and a loss in functional capacity which may reduce quality of life.

A combination of the degeneration of the spine and scoliosis may cause pressure on nerves and possibly even the entire spinal cord. This can lead to weakness, numbness and leg pain. People with adult scoliosis are often unable to walk short distances or even maintain an upright posture for short periods of time without intense pain.

People in their 60s and 70s are much more active today than previous generations. Understandably, they expect to continue to live active, pain-free lives for many years, even after retirement. Form, function and the ability to continue doing the things they enjoy are vitally important to them. As a result, it’s incumbent upon those of us in health care to help them maintain their quality of life.

Fortunately, adult scoliosis is typically treated with conservative, non-surgical solutions. In most cases, we are able to develop muscles that keep patients upright and stabilize their spinal segments to reduce their pain and improve their function through back-strengthening and postural exercises. Surgical options are available for the smaller group of patients for whom conservative treatments have failed.

Most of my training and research has focused on pediatric and adult spinal deformities. That gives me a unique perspective and ability to treat these patients through conservative and surgical methods. At Methodist Hospitals, which has the staff and facilities required to effectively treat patients suffering from all types of spinal issues, we take a coordinated team approach to delivering safe, effective and comprehensive treatment. I’m especially gratified to have the opportunity to collaborate with Dr. Elian Shepherd, who has served Northwest Indiana with distinction for many years, to treat patients with spine and spinal deformity issues.

Dr. Ashish Patel is a fellowship-trained spine surgeon with the Methodist Physician Group.