Do you remember getting scoliosis exams as a kid? I wish I could tell you that, as an adult, you’ve grown out of the risk of developing scoliosis. Unfortunately, though, nothing could be further from the facts. The truth is, after menopause, older women are especially prone to getting scoliosis. Let me tell you why…
Post Menopause Women At Higher Risk for Scoliosis
Once you hit menopause, around the age of 50, a woman’s risk for scoliosis increases in relation to her risk for osteoporosis. In early menopause, women can develop significant bone loss which, if left unchecked, can lead to full blown osteoporosis. Once osteoporosis sets in, scoliosis can follow. Why?
Scoliosis is a curvature of the spine in a kind of “S” pattern. It can develop from side to side, curving left or right, or front to back, causing the spine to bend too far forward or backward. It’s generally not a painful condition but it can range from mild to advanced. It all depends on the severity of the curvature and what part of the spine the curve takes place.
Scoliosis is usually not a painful condition, but it can lead to severe disability. It can arise in older adults – especially women – after osteoporosis has set in. If you had scoliosis as a child, you, too, are at higher risk for developing another case of it in your older years. Arthritis typically forms around the older spinal curvature. This causes further weakness, inflammation and degeneration of the spinal bones which allows scoliosis to form.
Osteoporosis is an important risk factor for developing scoliosis and post menopausal women are prime targets. So are older men who may take certain medications that can leach minerals from bones and lead to osteoporosis. Osteoporosis makes tiny fractures of the bones of the spine more likely. These fracture sites, although healed, can develop arthritis and weakening. That weakening allows the spine to sag into a non-aligned position and a scoliotic curve can form.
In a recent study, researchers at the Mayo Clinic reported that the number of adults being seen with scoliosis has doubled in recent years. Spine-straightening surgery is also on the rise for adults with scoliosis, especially in post menopausal Boomer women. Many women want to prevent the curve from getting worse in order to stay as active as possible and to avoid the “little old lady” look that can be the hallmark of scoliosis in older women.
Treatment for scoliosis is generally as much exercise as you can tolerate to re-strengthen bones, physical therapy, perhaps a brace to straighten the curve, and maybe even osteoporosis/arthritis medications. Surgery is another option, but can be more complicated in adults. It’s designed to improve mobility and decrease pain, rather than for cosmetic appearances.
So, the best way to insure that you won’t develop scoliosis in your later years is to practice preventative medicine now. Here’s what you need to do:
1. Get enough bone builders. Ensure that you’re getting enough calcium, vitamin D and collagen. Calcium and Vitamin D help generate new bone cells. Collagen keeps the bone matrix strong and spongy and helps bones maintain their shape and density. Calcium intake should be about 1,200-1,400 mg a day through either food sources or calcium supplements.
If you take supplements, though, be sure to divide them throughout the day and take with meals. For Vitamin D, you should be getting a minimum of 1,000 IU a day and preferably 2,000. Collagen helps your bones absorb calcium. You can get collagen from many foods or you can take it as a supplement as well, about 500-1,000 mg daily, fish/marine, or chicken collagen.
2. Exercise. Be sure to get enough weightbearing aerobic exercise every day. That is, exercise where your feet hit the pavement or hard floors. This impact stimulates your bones to grow and strengthen. In addition, weight resistance exercise that tones/builds muscles also helps stimulate bone growth.
3. Vitamin K. Helps your bones grow new “osteoblasts”, bone cells.
4. Protein. Important to maintain muscle strength. Weak, flabby muscles don’t stimulate bone growth very well. Adults start to lose muscle every year, as they get older, so, it’s crucial to boost muscle growth with protein.
5. Vitamin C. You may wonder why Vitamin C helps your bones, but it helps regrow collagen that keeps bones, tendons, ligaments, strong. When bone density is good, bones stay strong and osteoporosis can’t develop.
Osteoporosis is the most common bone disease in the U.S. It affects about 25 million older Americans and causes about 1.5 million fractures a year – most of them women. With all that osteoporosis and fractures, scoliosis can become just as prevalent. A recent study reported that about 68% of people over age 60 had some degree of scoliosis. That’s way too much for my liking. So, take out some preventative insurance against scoliosis by following my advice. Your spine will repay you in kind by allowing you to stay as active as you want long into your most elderly years.
Mark Bromson, M.D.
Baby Boomers and Scoliosis, http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/10/141028122426.htm
Top 10 Ways to Prevent Osteoporosis, http://www.healtharticles101.com/top-10-ways-to-prevent-osteoporosis-naturally/
Vitamin C for Bone Health, http://www.bodybio.com/content.aspx?page=Vitamin-C-and-Bones
The Impact of Scoliosis, http://www.theamericanchiropractor.com/articles-special-feature/5308-the-impact-of-scoliosis-on-the-people-living-with-it-and-their-families.html