Scoliosis in adults is most often caused by degeneration of the spinal discs and connective tissue. Treatment options include lifestyle changes, pain medications, physical therapy, and surgery.

Scoliosis is a spinal condition that causes an S- or C-shaped curve to form. This curve is sometimes visible as a lump under the skin. It can also change a person’s posture and cause symptoms such as:

  • pain
  • difficulty with balance and walking
  • breathing trouble
  • loss of height

Scoliosis is often thought of as a children’s health condition, but it can be diagnosed in adults, too. Sometimes, this is because scoliosis was present since childhood but missed and never diagnosed.

However, it’s possible for scoliosis to develop in adults with no history of the condition. Typically, this is caused by spinal degeneration.

Treatment can help manage adult scoliosis. Options include lifestyle changes, pain medication, physical therapy, and surgery.

There are two primary types of scoliosis in adults: idiopathic and degenerative.

Idiopathic scoliosis

Idiopathic scoliosis is childhood scoliosis that was never diagnosed or that still needs to be treated. When scoliosis has been present since childhood, the exact cause is almost always unknown.

It’s thought that idiopathic scoliosis might be related to genetics, hormonal changes, or to childhood injuries and illnesses. It’s also possible it’s caused by a combination of all of these factors, but more research is still needed.

Currently, the exact cause of childhood scoliosis and childhood scoliosis that persists into adulthood is unknown.

Degenerative scoliosis

The other primary cause of scoliosis in adults is degeneration of the soft tissues, such as the disc and ligaments. This can lead to spine curvature and is called degenerative scoliosis.

Some people, such as people who work jobs that put a high strain on their bodies, are at a greater risk for spinal degeneration and scoliosis. Smokers also have a higher risk of scoliosis.

Injuries or spinal conditions

There are a few other possible causes of scoliosis, such as spinal tumors, injuries to the spine, or neuromuscular conditions. However, these are most often seen in childhood scoliosis. They’re rare in adults.

Adults sometimes have degenerative scoliosis for years without realizing it. This is often because the condition causes no symptoms or only very mild symptoms when it first develops.

Eventually, chronic and unexplained back pain can be the first symptom that leads to adults seeking a diagnosis and treatment. When they do, there are several options.

The exact treatment plan for adult scoliosis will depend on the severity of both the curve and the symptoms. Options include:

  • Lifestyle changes: Lifestyle changes such as quitting smoking, adding swimming or other low impact exercises to your routine, improving your posture, and stretching daily, can all help manage symptoms of scoliosis.
  • Pain-relieving medication: Your doctor might recommend over-the-counter (OTC) pain-relieving medications or might prescribe medications to help manage pain.
  • Physical therapy: Physical therapy can help you improve your balance, posture, and range of motion, and it can help reduce pain.
  • Injections: Sometimes, epidural or nerve-blocking injections around the spine can help relieve pain. This can be an option if medications aren’t working for you.
  • Spine stabilization surgery: If pain is severe, and if scoliosis is affecting the quality of your life, surgery to stabilize and straighten the spine can be an option. The exact surgery options you’ll have will depend on your spine curvature and other factors unique to you.

Can you live a long time with scoliosis?

Scoliosis doesn’t typically affect a person’s lifespan. Generally, scoliosis symptoms and disease progression can be managed with treatment, and people with the condition can lead full and active lives.

However, without treatment, scoliosis complications such as difficulty breathing and nerve compression could become more difficult to manage. It’s best to talk with your doctor about your scoliosis and about the ways it might affect you as you age.

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Scoliosis is often thought of as a childhood condition, but it also affects adults.

Some adults are diagnosed with this condition because it’s been present for years, but the diagnosis was missed when they were children. For others, scoliosis is a new development, most often caused by degeneration of the spinal discs and connective tissues.

Treatment can help manage adult scoliosis. Common options include lifestyle changes, pain medication, physical therapy, pain-relieving injections, and surgery.

The outlook for adults with scoliosis is generally positive. Most people with the condition are able to manage the condition with treatment and lead full and active lives.