Scoliosis is an abnormal curvature of the spine. Instead of a straight line from the neck to the buttocks, the spine has a C- or S-shape.
Adult scoliosis is a spinal curvature that exists or develops after someone is done growing (around 18 years old). Adult scoliosis may be a progression of childhood scoliosis or a scoliosis that develops later in life.
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Idiopathic scoliosis is the most common form of scoliosis that continues into adulthood. Idiopathic means there is no clear cause of the scoliosis. Idiopathic scoliosis that is not diagnosed or treated in childhood can continue into adulthood. The scoliosis can also cause premature aging of the spine, which worsens the curvature. This is more likely with curves greater than 30 degrees.
Scoliosis that develops in adulthood may occur as the result of wear and tear injuries of the spine, also known as degenerative diseases.
Scoliosis that develops in adulthood occurs more often in people aged 60 years and older. It may occur with one or more of the following:
The risk of progression of any scoliosis is related to the degree of the curve. For example, someone with a 50-degree curve is at a much higher risk of progression than someone with a 30-degree curve.
The most common symptom is the appearance of asymmetry in the shoulders or hips. More severe curves may cause leaning forward or to 1 side in order to stand upright.
Other symptoms will depend on where the abnormal curvature is in the spine and the severity of the curves. Some may not have any symptoms. Progression of scoliosis or abnormal wear and tear on spine due to scoliosis may cause:
You will be asked about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. You will be asked to move or hold certain positions. An examination of the back and spine may include:
Not all curvature can be easily seen. Imaging tests may be needed to look at the spine and surrounding structures. Test options may include:
Neurologic tests may also be done to look for problems with nerves near the curvature.
Scoliosis with mild symptoms that don’t limit daily activities may not require treatment. You may be monitored for any changes in your spine or symptoms.
Scoliosis that is causing difficult symptoms or progressing may require treatment to help relieve symptoms. Options include:
Bracing for adults may be recommended to reduce pain, but only for a short time. Wearing a brace for a long time weakens the back muscles and doesn’t help the scoliosis.
Medication may be used to decrease pain and inflammation. Medication options may include:
Stretching and exercise help maintain flexibility, strength, and improve range of motion. Physical therapists may help design an exercise plan that reduces stress on your spine.
Surgery may be done to address other problems caused by the scoliosis. Surgical options may include:
Rarely, surgery may be needed to correct the curvature. It may be recommended when:
A spinal fusion connects 2 or more bones of the spine with rods or metal plates. The combined bones can help to straighten out an area of the spine to relieve some pressure.
Ortho Info—American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons
Scoliosis Research Society
Caring for Kids—Canadian Paediatric Society
Chronic low back pain. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T116935/Chronic-low-back-pain. Updated August 18, 2016. Accessed October 3, 2016.
Scoliosis in adults. Hospital for Special Surgery website. Available at: https://www.hss.edu/conditions_scoliosis-adults-overview.asp. Updated September 6, 2011. Accessed December 15, 2015.
Scoliosis in adults. Spine Universe website. Available at: http://www.spineuniverse.com/conditions/scoliosis/scoliosis-adults. Updated September 14, 2015. Accessed December 15, 2015.
Last reviewed December 2015 by Laura Lei-Rivera, DPT
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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