What Does It Mean If You Have Severe Scoliosis?

Human scoliosis x-ray

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  • Adolescents with severe scoliosis have a Cobb angle of 40 to 45 degrees, while adults have a Cobb angle of 50 to 55 degrees
  • If the Cobb angle is at 90 degrees, severe scoliosis can trigger heart and lung problems, and these can alter the rib cage and weaken the lungs’ ability to expand

Severe scoliosis is informally defined as a condition that has progressed to a level where surgery is highly recommended. Adolescents with severe scoliosis have a Cobb angle of 40 to 45 degrees, while adults have a Cobb angle of 50 to 55 degrees. However, the University of Maryland Medical Center points out that severe scoliosis patients may have curves measuring 70 degrees.1,2

Regardless of these measurements, curves of these magnitudes have a very high risk of worsening, and can lead to changes in posture and appearance. Surgery is recommended for patients with severe scoliosis to help stop curve progression, because it may be effective in reducing or reversing some of the changes in posture and appearance, although this effect doesn’t always happen.

Symptoms of Severe Scoliosis

According to the South Florida Scoliosis Center, symptoms of severe scoliosis include:3

A tilted head or uneven shoulders or hips

Spine has a “C” or “S” shape underneath the skin

Torso can rotate and pull the belly button off center

Clothes may hang unevenly

One shoulder blade can be higher than the other

A prominent “rib bump”

Fatigue after physical activity, including sitting or standing for long periods

Clumsiness or being accident-prone

Patient can become easily winded with physical activity

Pain in spine, commonly between shoulder blades, at the base of the rib cage and/or in the lower back

Headaches (considered common)


Complications of Severe Scoliosis to Watch Out For

Sadly, there are complications that can occur because of severe scoliosis. Should the scoliosis progress to very high levels, such as a Cobb angle that exceeds 70 degrees, the severe twisting of the spine can cause the ribs to press against the lungs, restrict breathing and reduce oxygen levels. These can lead to dangerous changes in the heart.4

If the Cobb angle is at 90 degrees, severe scoliosis can trigger heart and lung problems,5 and these can alter the rib cage and weaken the lungs’ ability to expand. These issues can eventually lead to impaired respiratory function.6 Lastly, if the curve has a Cobb degree of more than 100 degrees, this can cause heart and lung injuries, and make the patient more susceptible to lung infections and pneumonia.7

Severe scoliosis can also lead to a postural imbalance, wherein the head is no longer centered over the spine. Furthermore, severe scoliosis can cause patients to develop spondylosis, or arthritis of the spine. The larger the spinal curve, the more arthritic the patient may become. Once the curve grows larger and becomes more asymmetrical, this can place abnormal stress on the spinal discs, resulting in spondylosis.8

When a patient has spondylosis, his or her discs degenerate, narrow and lose water content. The collagen fibers in the disk can break apart, while the facet joints become hypertrophic or enlarged. Cartilage, the connective tissue surrounding the ends of bones allowing for smooth joint movement,9 eventually become pitted and thin. Lastly, osteophytes or bone spurs can develop.10

MORE ABOUT SCOLIOSIS

Scoliosis: Introduction

What is Scoliosis?

Types of Scoliosis

Severe Scoliosis

Scoliosis Symptoms

Dealing with Scoliosis-Related Pain

Scoliosis Causes

Scoliosis Side Effects

Scoliosis Treatment

Scoliosis Back Braces

Yoga for Scoliosis

Exercises for Scoliosis Patients

Scoliosis Surgeries

Scoliosis Prevention

Diet for Scoliosis Patients

Scoliosis FAQ



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