Surgery is the go-to treatment for severe scoliosis, but many nonsurgical options might help, too. This is what you may want to know about treating scoliosis without surgery.

Between 6 and 9 million adults in the United States live with scoliosis. This atypical curvature of the spine may be diagnosed in childhood, and the symptoms might remain mild.

Yet some cases might be more severe. Typically, surgical correction is used only in severe cases.

Many people with scoliosis live healthy, active lives. Physical therapy and other nonsurgical treatments can help improve your quality of life and physical ability. Keep reading to learn more.

Scoliosis is an atypical curve of the spine that is often present for some time before diagnosis.

If the curvature is mild, you might not notice it right away, and it might not cause any noticeable concerns with activity or development. In these cases, a doctor might just observe the condition to see how it progresses throughout childhood, without suggesting aggressive treatment.

The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons suggests that only people who are experiencing significant disability from a curve of 40 degrees or more consider surgical correction.

If you don’t have a curvature or symptoms that are severe enough to require surgery, physical therapy, stretches, and even bracing can all offer nonsurgical benefits.

Understanding scoliosis

You can have scoliosis without experiencing severe symptoms, or you could require surgery. Find out how your doctor will watch the progression of your scoliosis and when treatment will be offered.

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Diagnosis and treatment for scoliosis is most common in children ages 10–15 years old.

But adults can develop scoliosis, too. This form of scoliosis is called “degenerative,” and it often develops slowly over time instead of as a result of congenital (from birth) or structural issues.

Scoliosis in adults mostly affects the lower back and first appears with back pain as a symptom. Observation for a period of time to check for progression is usually the first step your doctor will take. Surgery is usually recommended only for severe cases, and it can include either spinal fusion or decompression surgeries.

Nonsurgical treatments are also available, and they range from natural remedies like yoga and acupuncture to more formal methods of physical therapy and even bracing.

Bracing is largely seen as one of the most effective nonsurgical options for scoliosis. It’s been shown to slow the progression of scoliosis and to help decrease the degree of curvature over time.

Bracing, physical therapy, stretching, and strength training might all be used as nonsurgical treatment options for adult scoliosis.

Building up the strength to support a curved spine, increasing flexibility, and training your spine to curve in a different direction can all help to combat an atypical curve and prevent other complications.

There has also been some research on the use of tools like functional electrical stimulation and pain-relieving injections like epidurals or nerve blocks, but braces are still usually the nonsurgical treatment option of choice.

There are many different types of braces and orthotics that your doctor may recommend. There is little research comparing brace types to one another, so you may need to try a few versions before you find the right device to meet your needs.

Stretching and exercises that improve your range of motion, build strength, and relieve tension are usually favored when it comes to natural scoliosis management options.

Acupuncture might also be used, but there is little scientific data that really compares the effect of these treatments on quality of life in adults with scoliosis.

If the curvature of your spine is interfering with your ability to carry out your daily activities, causing you severe pain, or leading to compression or displacement of other vital organs, surgery may be the best treatment option.

Your doctor will likely suggest a number of natural and nonsurgical options alongside a period of observation before recommending surgery.

Scoliosis that develops into adulthood may progress slowly, having a minimal effect on your quality of life.

According to experts, one study found that scoliosis progressed in about 40% of adult patients over a period of 20 years, but only 10% of these cases has significant curvature. Thirty percent of the people in the study had mild progression.

You can live an active and healthy life even with scoliosis, but a doctor may recommend surgery based on your degree of curvature and what symptoms you experience. Severe pain, nerve compression or damage, and a lowered quality of life or ability to perform activities are usually indications for surgery.

Scoliosis is not all that unusual in children and teens, and it can even appear in adulthood as a result of degenerative changes over time. In many cases, your doctor will watch the curvature of your spine, suggesting conservative treatments like physical therapy and bracing unless you develop severe pain or disability.

More severe cases often require surgical correction in the form of spinal fusion or decompression surgery.

Discuss your individual symptoms, abilities, and the risks versus benefits of the different treatment options with your doctor. Your treatment will depend on your overall health, your quality of life, expectations for treatment, and your ability to manage your symptoms.