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 - Northwestern Memorial Hospital - Chicago

Adult Scoliosis

While idiopathic scoliosis is most often associated with children or adolescents, there is also adult scoliosis.

In adult scoliosis, the entire spine may be affected, including the neck, and may cause not only pain in the back, but radiating pain traveling down their legs. Treatment focuses on:

  • Restoring function
  • Alleviating pain

Adult scoliosis is seen in both males and females over 18 years, and it is common for even older patients in their 60s through 80s to seek treatment for adult scoliosis.

Causes of Adult Scoliosis

While there are many causes of adult scoliosis, two of the most common causes are:

  • Idiopathic scoliosis: this is the same as the type which appeared at adolescence, but has worsened with adulthood
  • Degenerative (de novo, or “new”) scoliosis: this variety is a curvature resulting from wear and tear on the spine

Other causes of adult scoliosis may include curvature of the spine caused by:

  • Osteoporosis, or brittle bone disease
  • Spinal fractures from trauma
  • Spondylolisthesis, or slipped disc
  • Spinal infections
  • Spinal tumors

Signs & Symptoms

In addition to the signature curvature of the spine itself, adult scoliosis is characterized by:

  • Lower back pain
  • Stiffness in the back
  • Numbness, muscle cramping, shooting pain in legs

What Treatments are Offered?

There are both nonsurgical and surgical options available for the treatment of adult scoliosis.

Nonsurgical Options

For the majority of people with adult scoliosis, a nonsurgical approach may work. In many cases, back pain from adult scoliosis may be managed through:

  • Exercises
  • Physical therapy
  • Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
  • Epidural steroid injections
  • Nerve root blocks

Back braces are only rarely used in cases of adult scoliosis, although in patients for whom surgery is not an option, they may be considered.

Surgical Options

In patients for whom the curvature has worsened, or who have pain that has not been responsive to treatment. If a curve is continuing to get worse, surgery may be performed, typically spinal fusion or use of instrumentation (metal rods and/or screws) to help keep the spine straight after surgery.

There are a number of approaches for surgery for adult scoliosis, including:

  • Posterior (back)
  • Anterior (front)
  • Combined (anterior and posterior)

The exact approach depends on the extent and degree of the curvature, the condition of the vertebrae, and the extent of the damage to the spine.


Recovery time varies, depending on the severity of the condition, and the extent of the surgery, as well as the age and health of the patient.

The normal range of recovery can be three months to as many as six to nine months after the surgery. You may require time for rehabilitative therapy to aid in your recovery.


Last UpdateJanuary 19, 2012