Bent Out Of Shape: The Adult Scoliosis Debate

FRESNO, Calif.

Julia Eppler's back problems ruined her backstitch.

"I've had back pain since I was 14," Julia Eppler, who suffers from scoliosis, told Ivanhoe.

Diagnosed at age 20 with adult scoliosis, her spine's curve grew from 24 degrees to 54. Attempts at physical therapy and injections failed.

"It was very frustrating and I felt very limited," Eppler said.

Half a million people have adult scoliosis in the U.S., and 40 percent will feel more pain each year.

"Many people, as the spine begins to age, and the discs degenerate, begin to experience more back and even leg pain," Charles C. Edwards, M.D., at the Maryland spine center, said.

A new study shows spinal surgery may be the only true option. Therapy, braces and pain injections don't hold up long term for most. Still, the U.S. spends 860 billion bucks a year on these remedies.

"While we may try medicines and injections first, oftentimes we will move onto surgery because those other methods just are not making a difference for them," Dr. Edwards said.

The study shows operative patients saw a significant boost in function and quality of life. That includes patients from 40 to 80 years old. Non-operative patients reported no improvement at all.

"I no longer have this sharp, burning, debilitating pain," Eppler said.

Julia's decompression and fusion surgery worked, and her spine works just fine now.

"The difference has been remarkable," Eppler said.

For Julia the reward is simply sitting and sewing. Six centers across the U.S. are currently involved in the government's adult scoliosis study. All six centers are currently enrolling patients with results expected in 2015.

If this story or any other Ivanhoe story has impacted your life or prompted you or someone you know to seek or change treatments, please let us know by contacting Marsha Hitchcock at mhitchcock@ivanhoe.com.

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