Spinal Conditions

Adult Idiopathic Scoliosis

Adult Idiopathic Scoliosis

Adult idiopathic scoliosis can occur at any age but chances increase with age.

What is Adult Idiopathic Scoliosis?

While scoliosis is commonly linked with childhood, it can manifest in adults at any stage. The term “adult” denotes individuals who have reached skeletal maturity. Adult scoliosis presents distinct characteristics in terms of causality, treatment modalities, and therapeutic objectives.

Scoliosis is a musculoskeletal condition that distorts the spine’s shape, typically resulting in a non-straight alignment, resembling the letters “C” or “S” when viewed from behind, due to lateral curvature.

Adult Idiopathic Scoliosis

Idiopathic scoliosis represents a prevalent form of adult scoliosis. “Idiopathic” signifies a condition of unknown origin, indicating that the cause of scoliosis is unclear. Adult idiopathic scoliosis may evolve from the progression of childhood idiopathic scoliosis.

As individuals age, scoliosis can stem from various factors. For instance, an individual with idiopathic scoliosis may remain stable for years, but as degenerative changes affect the spine, the scoliotic curve may deteriorate or accelerate in progression. This explains why scoliotic curves tend to worsen with age.

Incidence Rate

The exact percentage of adults affected by idiopathic scoliosis remains uncertain. However, reports frequently suggest that between 8-9% of adults aged 25–75 years have scoliosis. While abnormal spinal curvature can develop at any age, its likelihood increases with age, with women being more affected than men. Nonetheless, only a fraction of adult scoliosis patients develop curves significant enough to necessitate active treatment.

Symptoms of Adult Idiopathic Scoliosis

Most individuals with adult idiopathic scoliosis experience pain, often leading to its discovery.

Potential symptoms may include:

  • Low back pain
  • Uneven hips and/or shoulders
  • Asymmetrical shoulder blades
  • Development of a dorsal hump
  • Lateral curvature of the spine
  • Muscle fatigue
  • Radiating pain and numbness in the legs

Diagnosis of Adult Scoliosis

Evaluation for adult scoliosis typically involves:

Medical History and Physical Examination

This involves an interview and review of medical records to identify any underlying conditions contributing to the scoliotic curvature.

Imaging Studies

Adult patients showing abnormal spinal curves, unusual back pain, or signs of underlying conditions require imaging studies such as X-rays, CT scans, or MRI scans of the spine, pelvis, and hips.

Treatment of Adult Idiopathic Scoliosis

Many adults with mild idiopathic curves may not necessitate treatment but should undergo regular monitoring. Treatment options for adult scoliosis encompass surgical and non-surgical approaches, focusing on pain alleviation, functional enhancement, and correction of spinal curvature.

Treatment considerations include:

  • Severity of symptoms and curve
  • Patient’s overall health
  • Curve location


Observation may suffice for adults with minor curves, involving regular monitoring and periodic X-rays.


Bracing is generally ineffective for preventing curve progression in adults but may offer pain relief post-surgery.

Physical Therapy

Physical therapy, emphasizing core strengthening, flexibility, and symptom relief, is often part of the treatment plan.

Pain Management Injections

Injections such as epidurals or nerve blocks may temporarily alleviate back or leg pain.


Surgery becomes necessary if non-surgical interventions fail or are unsuitable. The goal is to correct the curve, stabilize the spine, and reduce pain, considering factors such as symptoms, curve severity, patient’s health, and progression rate. Adult scoliosis surgery usually involves hardware implantation and spinal fusion, with varying techniques available. Although riskier and with a longer recovery period compared to surgery in younger patients, adults can experience significant functional improvement post-surgery.

All information provided on this website is for information purposes only. Please see a healthcare professional for medical advice. If you are seeking this information in an emergency situation, please call 911 and seek emergency help.