Scoliosis Spinal Deformities

Scoliosis, a word that means curvature of the spine, is not a disease, but rather a term used to describe any abnormal, sideways curvature of the spine.


Scoliosis and other spinal deformities usually develop during the growth years of adolescence, or as a result of aging and “wear and tear.” In some cases, scoliosis deformities can progress during adulthood as well.


Scoliosis can affect the spine in three sections:

  • the cervical (neck)
  • thoracic (chest region)
  • lumbar (lower back).


scoliosis adults severe

Scoliosis in Adults

Degenerative scoliosis, also known as adult scoliosis or adult onset scoliosis, features the same curvature as pediatric scoliosis. However, it is caused by degeneration of the facet joints, which provide spinal stability in certain motions. This type of scoliosis occurs most frequently in people over 65 years of age.


While scoliosis in children is often discovered during a screening, scoliosis in adults is typically discovered when the condition causes pain or discomfort. The deformity in an adult may have been present since childhood or may be the result of the aging process.


It is not unusual for patients who are well into their 60s, 70s or even 80s to present with symptoms of pain and functional limitations caused by scoliosis. Researchers say about 500,000 adults in the U.S. suffer from scoliosis and have severe sideways curvature.

adult onset scoliosis symptoms causes

What Causes Adult Onset Scoliosis?

There are many different causes of scoliosis spinal deformity in an elderly adult. Although pain may not present itself until later in life, the causes of scoliosis may have started much earlier.


The most common varieties of scoliosis include:

  • idiopathic scoliosis that was present during adolescence and then became worse during adulthood.
  • deformity that began in adulthood due to degenerative (wear and tear) changes in the spine and that developed later in life.


Other causes of scoliosis, though less frequent, include:

  • trauma (from an injury or illness)
  • bone collapse
  • previous major back surgery
  • osteoporosis (thinning of the bones)
  • spondylolisthesis (slipped vertebrae)
  • rarely, infections and tumors of the spine.


With increasing life expectancy along with more active lifestyles, the number of older adults requiring treatment for scoliosis has also risen.


Scoliosis Symptoms in Adults

Symptoms may vary depending on the severity and location of the scoliosis deformity, although generally include:

  • Side-to-side (to the left or right side) curvature of the spine
  • Pain, numbness, or weakness in the legs and feet
  • Difficulty breathing.


scoliosis treatment adults

Severe Scoliosis Treatment in Adults

Surgery may be recommended when the spinal curve is greater than 50 degrees and the patient has nerve damage to the legs and/or is experiencing bowel or bladder symptoms.


In other cases, scoliosis treatment may include less invasive options, such as pain management or therapy.