Adult Scoliosis

Back X-ray showing scoliosis (curvature). 2 views. Female.

Scoliosis refers to an abnormal curvature of the spine. Scoliosis can occur in adults of all ages and sometimes can lead to significant pain and limitation. In other people, little or no symptoms may be present.

Types of adult scoliosis

In adults, scoliosis may either one of two types:

  • Pre-existing: In this type, the scoliosis developed prior to adulthood, most likely in adolescence. The scoliosis may or may not worsen during adult life.
  • Newly developed: This is usually as the result of degeneration in the spine and is known as Degenerative De-Novo Scoliosis (DDS). This type of scoliosis usually starts from around 45 years of age. As it is the result of degeneration of the spine, it is nearly always progressive.

Symptoms of adult scoliosis


For most people with adult scoliosis, the main symptom is lower back pain. Studies have shown that there is no correlation between the extent of the curve and the presence or extent of

pain. On the other hand, the area where the curve is located and the ‘balance of the spine’ can predict the presence of pain, with curves in the lumbar region usually causing the most symptoms.

Treatment for adult scoliosis

Most commonly, people with adult scoliosis are treated with a conservative (non-surgical) approach. This type of treatment can include pain or anti-inflammatory medication and physical therapy. Sometimes intensive physical therapy can be of assistance to strengthen and stabilize the muscles around the spine and abdomen and can help with pain relief.

For some people, using a specialized type of flexible bracing system can help. This type of bracing is designed to work in a similar way to physical therapy by retraining the muscles to work in a supportive manner to help correct the postural imbalance. Some studies have shown very good results in pain relief with this type of bracing. Rigid bracing is generally not recommended for adults with scoliosis as it generally leads to a reduction in muscle strength and control.

Surgical intervention is recommended for a small group of people with adult scoliosis. Surgery may be designed to stabilize the spine and may also be able to partially or fully correct the curvature. If you have been recommended for surgery, then your surgeon will discuss with you the particular type of surgery that is right for you. A period of rehabilitation will be advised after surgery to help you regain strength and return to your normal life.