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Does scoliosis cause pain? The answer to this question is complicated, because it depends upon the amount of curvature of the spine and the amount of other degenerative changes, like arthritis, in certain parts of the spine. In general, most forms of scoliosis are not specifically painful.

Doctors believe that patients who have curves that are less than 30 degrees do not have any more back pain during their lifetime than someone who has a "normal" straight spine. However, very large curves can cause significant changes in posture that make it difficult to sit, stand, or walk for long periods of time. This type of discomfort is often called spinal fatigue pain and it is due to the fact that the spine is not aligned correctly and the muscles that support the back are constantly straining to keep the person upright. This type of pain is usually dull and achy in nature, relieved by rest, and located in the muscles of the back.

Patients who have scoliosis can also suffer from the same back problems as everyone else. These problems include degenerative arthritis of the back, herniated discs, and spinal stenosis. Occasionally, certain degenerative changes are related to the presence of scoliosis along the spine. For instance, the intervertebral discs in the lumbar spine are subjected to abnormally increased biomechanical stresses if a scoliotic curve is present in the lumbar spine. This can cause these discs to wear out earlier than they might normally, and they can become a significant source of pain and discomfort. When degenerative changes occur in the presence of scoliosis, they often need to be treated differently than if they occurred in a well-aligned spine.

Patients who have been operated upon for scoliosis can also experience pain for reasons that are related to the original scoliosis, or to the surgery that was done to correct it. For instance, the intervertebral discs adjacent to a fused segment of the spine often wear out faster than they would normally, and this condition can become painful. This is called "adjacent segment disease", and it can be a reason why the fusion may need to be extended to include additional levels many years after the original surgery. Also, not all scoliosis surgeries are successful, and certain problems can arise after the operation. A pseudoarthrosis, or false joint, is an area where the fusion has failed to properly develop between two vertebral bodies. The abnormal motion in an area of a pseudoarthrosis can be quite painful and may require further operations in order to get the segment to fuse properly.

Scoliosis patients are not immune to the same aches and pains that affect other non-scoliosis patients. Pain caused by arthritis elsewhere in the body, like the hips and knees for example, can affect they way someone feels about the overall health, especially after they have had a major spine surgery at some point in their life. Sometimes these conditions are treated in special ways because a patient has had a spine fusion, and many times they require further testing to ensure that some part of the spine is not contributing to the symptoms that are felt elsewhere in the body.

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  • Published: July 11, 2002
  • Updated: July 22, 2008