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.
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:
Back pain or stiffness
Numbness, weakness, or cramping in areas or limbs around the curvature
Changes in bowel or bladder habits—if the curvature is in low back
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:
Assessing posture and spinal curvature in an upright position
An assessment of your spine while you are bent forward to look for:
Other abnormalities along the back
Not all curvature can be easily seen. Imaging tests may be needed to look at the spine and surrounding structures. Test options may include:
—an x-ray using a dye to highlight smaller structures like blood vessels
Rarely, surgery may be needed to correct the curvature. It may be recommended when:
Other treatments fail
The spine becomes unstable
There is a decline in quality of life
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.
There are no current guidelines for preventing scoliosis in adults. If you are at high risk for other spinal conditions, such as osteoporosis, talk to your doctor about preventive measures you can take.
EBSCO Information Services is fully accredited by URAC. URAC is an independent, nonprofit health care accrediting organization dedicated to promoting health care quality through accreditation, certification and commendation.
This content is reviewed regularly and is updated when new and relevant evidence is made available. This information is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with questions regarding a medical condition.
To send comments or feedback to our Editorial Team regarding the content please email us at email@example.com. Our Health Library Support team will respond to your email request within 2 business days.