How Common Is Adult-Onset Scoliosis and What Are the Treatment Options?

Published on March 7, 2019 by The Spine Center

Scoliosis is often thought of as a childhood condition most commonly associated with abnormal changes occurring during growth spurts. However, scoliosis can and does strike well past adolescence. Although the exact cause of most cases of scoliosis in children and adults is unknown, there are treatment options. No matter your age, it’s important to see a doctor if you notice a curvature of spine.

Prevalence of adult-onset scoliosis

Though a diagnosis of scoliosis in adulthood can come as a surprise, it isn’t uncommon. The prevalence of adult-onset scoliosis isn’t well-established at this time. Estimates range broadly with some experts putting it at 2.5%, while others estimate as much as 25% of the population.

When scoliosis occurs in adulthood, it’s referred to as degenerative scoliosis. At the Spine Center of Louisiana, we offer the latest scoliosis treatments for children and adults. We see an increased prevalence in adult-onset scoliosis, particularly in the senior population.

What does an adult-onset scoliosis diagnosis mean?

Adult-onset scoliosis means that you’ve developed a curvature of the spine due to the breakdown of certain structures of the spine, namely the facets joints and intervertebral discs. This is different from adolescent-onset scoliosis. Of course, scoliosis that develops during childhood can continue to progress during adulthood. For the purpose of this article, we will focus on scoliosis that develops as you age through adulthood.

How does adult-onset scoliosis develop?

Your spine is composed of various structures that help you move and bend smoothly. Intervertebral discs are cushions positioned between vertebral discs, and facet joints serve as hinges. When they’re healthy, you can move and bend your spine with ease. As you age, these structures undergo changes, and in some people, the structures break down. When this happens in a more pronounced fashion on one side of the spine, a curve can develop. This is what we see in patients with adult-onset scoliosis.

Adult-onset scoliosis treatment options

The treatment options for adult-onset scoliosis are different than adolescent-onset scoliosis. For children, the primary goal is to straighten the curvature of the spine. For adults the primary goal is to relieve pain and improve flexibility.

You may not need surgery

Many adults who are diagnosed with scoliosis immediately think they will need surgery. You should know that the majority of cases of adult-onset scoliosis can be managed successfully with nonsurgical treatments. Only a small number of people with adult-onset scoliosis will require surgery.

Physical therapy

Physical therapy treatment for scoliosis can help relieve pain so that you can return to your regular daily activities. In adult-onset scoliosis muscles tend to adapt by working harder to try to straighten the spine. This can cause muscle tension and spasms that cause or contribute to pain. Exercises that strengthen the muscles that support the spine can with pain relief. Your provider may also incorporate stretching and muscle stimulators into your treatment regimen.


Nerve blocks and epidural injections can provide fast relief from scoliosis-related pain. These injections can relieve inflammation and block pain signals from reaching the brain. Your nerves and your brain engage in two-way communication. Nerves are bundles of fibers that send sensory information to the brain. Nerve blocks disrupt those signals to provide pain relief.

Anti-inflammatory medication

Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medication interferes with the body’s inflammatory reaction. By reducing inflammation, these medications can help ease pain. Scoliosis patients may find that anti-inflammatory medications relieve stiffness and help improve flexibility.

Surgical treatment

Sometimes adult-onset scoliosis can cause debilitating symptoms. Patients who experience severe symptoms that aren’t relieved by conservative treatments may consider surgical treatment. Surgery restores the balance of the spine to relieve pressure, stabilize the spinal structures, and help the body maintain the correct alignment.

Visiting a spine specialist is a good step toward effectively managing scoliosis. To learn more and request an appointment, call one of our three South Louisiana clinics or online.

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