Is osteoporosis related to scolosis

Q: My 83-year-old mother has started to develop scoliosis. Is it because she has osteoporosis? No one seems to know why this is happening to her.

A: Studies show that adults with osteoporosis may be six times more likely to develop scoliosis compared with someone who does not have osteoporosis. But other researchers have not been able to confirm a direct relationship between scoliosis and osteoporosis. It’s possible that age is the real underlying factor.

There are two main types of scoliosis in adults (based on cause or etiology). One is called adult idiopathic scoliosis (AIS). The other is degenerative scoliosis. Idiopathic means there is no known cause. Degenerative scoliosis is as the name suggests — a breakdown in the supportive structure of the spine that occurs as a result of the aging process.

At your mother’s age, it may be more likely that she is experiencing the degenerative type of scoliosis. And, again, by the time a woman goes through menopause and reaches her 80s, the chances of having decreased bone mineral density (osteoporosis) are pretty good.

The results of a recent study from Japan may help prove that adult scoliosis does not occur as a result of osteoporosis in postmenopausal women. They examined the medical records of 176 adult women between the ages of 26 and 82.

This study was designed to look at two separate bone density measurements: one in the lumbar spine and the other at the femoral neck (area of bone between the shaft of the thigh bone and the round bone at the top of the thigh bone). Dual energy radiograph absorptiometry or DXA scans were used to measure and compare bone mineral density at both sites.

The amount of bone loss was similar between hip and spine. And the amount of bone loss in adult women with scoliosis was pretty much the same (no statistical difference) as women the same age who did not have scoliosis. The main finding was that it was the older women in the study who were more likely to have decreased bone mineral density.

The authors think that the results of this study may help prove that adult scoliosis does not occur as a result of osteoporosis in postmenopausal women. And along the same lines, the spinal curvature won’t get worse if osteoporosis is present. It’s more likely that advancing age is the main reason why scoliosis curves develop and/or get worse in older women.

Reference: Mitsuru Yagi, MD, PhD, et al. Characterization of Osteopenia/Osteoporosis in Adult Scoliosis. In Spine. September 15, 2011. Vol. 36. No. 20. Pp. 1652-1657.