Scoliosis is more often seen in children, but adults can develop it too. Back pain and posture changes are the most common symptoms in adults. Physical therapy or surgery can help improve quality of life.

Scoliosis is an abnormal curvature of the spine. It usually appears in infancy or early childhood but can also develop in adulthood.

This article explores adult onset scoliosis, who is at risk, and what kind of treatment a doctor may recommend.

According to the American Association of Neurological Surgeons (AANS), scoliosis affects 6–9 million people in the United States. Most of these cases are diagnosed in children and teens. The condition is often the result of structural problems present at birth.

However, adults can also develop scoliosis.

Degenerative scoliosis is the primary form that appears in adults. It’s usually diagnosed in people ages 65 years and older.

Some of these cases occur in people who received a scoliosis diagnosis and treatment in their youth. But most adult cases result from degenerative changes, mainly in the lower part of the spine.

In adults, common scoliosis symptoms include:

  • back pain
  • posture changes
  • uneven shoulders or hips
  • leaning of the body to one side

The AANS reports on one study that found 23% of scoliosis cases that couldn’t be attributed to genetic or congenital problems first appeared with back pain. About 10% of people who received a diagnosis of scoliosis later in life also had other back problems that contributed to this pain.

Adult onset scoliosis differs from juvenile scoliosis mainly because of why it happens and what treatment aims to address.

In children, congenital or genetic issues are the most common cause of scoliosis. The goal of treatment is to correct issues that could interfere with normal skeletal growth and development. Treatment in children and teens also aims to keep the curvature from progressing and causing other issues.

For adults, age as well as lifestyle and degenerative changes are the most common contributors to scoliosis. Treatment typically focuses on improving symptoms and quality of life.

In adults, progression is more likely. About 40% of people with scoliosis experience worsening symptoms over time, notes the AANS. In about 10% of these people, they have significant progression of symptoms, while 30% have milder progression.

Physical therapy and bracing can help treat mild cases of scoliosis. These more conservative measures can treat a curvature of 40 degrees or less.

Surgery usually treats severe curvature of 50 degrees or more.

Spinal fusion is one of the most common fixes for scoliosis, but you may also need surgery to open the space in the spinal column to relieve pressure on nerves.

This surgery, called decompression, can help resolve pain caused by pinched or compressed nerves.

An orthopedic doctor will usually direct your treatment.

Adult onset scoliosis can result in pain and cause complications, like spinal stenosis, and impair quality of life.

Although scoliosis can require significant treatment to correct, bracing, surgery, and physical therapy can help improve quality of life.

Many people with scoliosis, whether it appears in childhood or adulthood, live full lives with treatment.

Scoliosis is more common in children than in adults, but adult onset scoliosis is still possible as a result of degenerative changes.

Back pain and posture changes are the most common symptoms of adult scoliosis. Physical therapy and surgery can significantly improve the quality of life for adults with scoliosis.