Scoliosis: What to expect in adulthood

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Learn what to expect regarding physical and social activities, body image, sexual activity and pregnancy when a teen with scoliosis reaches adulthood.

Key points

  • Studies have shown that certain men and women who had scoliosis surgery in childhood experienced some difficulties with physical activity, social activities, body image and sexual activity.

A few studies have been done on adults who went through scoliosis surgery as teens. Most of these studies followed patients from five to 20 years after surgery. Here are some of the results.

Photo of Chantal driving

Physical activity

  • Both men and women had some difficulty with exercises such as extended walking or running.
  • Women had more difficulty with carrying heavy objects such as suitcases, groceries, or babies.
  • Women also found it more difficult to sit or stand for long periods of time.
  • Men had more difficulty with sitting due to pain.
  • Women found their social activities or ability to travel somewhat restricted due to pain.

Social and other activities

About one-half of men and women had problems in their social life because of difficulties participating in physical activities. They also felt self-conscious about their appearance. Despite this, men and women were functioning normally for their age group in terms of:

  • Social status: marriage and having children
  • Sports
  • Job performance

Here are some other findings:

  • In one study, 75% of people who went through scoliosis surgery were able to hold full-time jobs.
  • The severity of the curve (before surgery or at the most recent measurement) did not have any effect on the person’s ability to do things. People with more severe curves were able to do the same things as people with smaller curves.
  • People with double major curves - one curve in the thoracic spine (mid-back) and one curve in the lumbar spine (low back) - had more difficulty driving a car.
  • People with curves in their lower (lumbar) spine had more difficulty with household chores.
  • The more the fusion extended into the lumbar (lower) spine, the more trouble patients had with lifting, running, standing, and carrying.
  • People who underwent fusion of their entire lumbar (lower) spine had problems with their lumbar spine. They tended to need a lot of disability time off from work.

Body image

In a study looking at scoliosis patients 20 years after their surgery:

  • The major complaint for both men and women was how they looked in a bathing suit.
  • They also had problems with certain social activities because they were self-conscious about their appearance.

In another study looking at scoliosis patients 10 years following their surgery:

  • Women had a poorer body image. They often didn’t think they had a good figure for their age or that they were in good shape for their age.
  • Men also didn’t think they were in good shape for their age.
  • Regardless, both men and women had good self-esteem. They were able to cope with their scoliosis in a positive way.

Sexual activity

In one study, about one-third of women reported problems in their sex life. This was often due to self-consciousness about appearance or feeling unable to participate in physical activities. Body image and sexual activity may also be affected by cultural or national differences.

Pregnancy and childbirth

The rates of marriage and number of children born to women with scoliosis are the same as the general population. Here are some findings in women with scoliosis who went through pregnancy and childbirth:

  • Some women experienced increased back pain during pregnancy.
  • Women with a fused lumbar (lower) spine had some difficulty getting an epidural. This was because the hardware (rods) made it difficult for the anaesthetist to access the spinal cord.
  • Rates of complications during labour and delivery were the same as in normal women.
  • The rate of caesarean section was the same as in normal women.
  • Pregnancy did not increase any curves; this includes both fused and unfused curves.
Last updated: June 1st 2008