What is Adult Scoliosis?

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  • Written By: Jacquelyn Gilchrist
  • Edited By: Michelle Arevalo
  • Last Modified Date: 21 October 2019
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Scoliosis is a disease in which the spine develops an abnormal curve. Typically, the spine bends to the side, either left or right. It may also twist. This disease usually develops in childhood. Scoliosis in patients who are 18 years old or older is referred to as adult scoliosis.

The human spine does have natural curves that perform an important function for the body. They act as shock absorbers to help the body cope with the physical stress of movement. With the abnormal curvature of scoliosis, however, patients may experience pain.

Adult scoliosis can be caused by the degeneration of the spine. This may be a result of a disease like osteoporosis, by a fracture, or by the degeneration of the spine’s discs. Adult scoliosis may also be carried over from the patient’s childhood. Occasionally, cases of scoliosis may not be either treated or diagnosed.

The most common symptom of scoliosis is back pain. It can range from mild to severe. The disease can also cause deformity and a lack of symmetry in the patient’s physique. Scoliosis may result in the patient walking with an abnormal gait, because the length of the legs is not symmetrical. Some patients may experience stiffness, rigidity of the spine, and problems sitting or standing.


One of the first diagnostic tools a doctor can use to determine whether a patient is at risk for scoliosis is called Adam’s Forward Bend Test. In this simple test, the doctor will have the patient stand and bend forward with the knees straight and the arms dangling. The doctor can then examine the spine clearly. This test may occasionally miss deformities in the lower spine, however.

Other tests for diagnosing adult scoliosis include a neurological test to determine the patient’s reflexes and nerve health. A physician may also use a scoliometer, which is a device that can measure the spine. If this test indicates a possible deformity, the doctor will likely order x-rays.

There is no standard treatment that will work for every patient with adult scoliosis. Some people with a mild curvature may not need any treatment at all. A doctor may give a patient specific exercises that may help. Other people may try an epidural steroid injection for pain relief.

Surgical intervention for adult patients is typically reserved for cases that cause persistent pain. A surgeon may recommend spinal fusion. In this procedure, the spine will be carefully realigned, although a complete realignment may not be possible. A bone graft can then be used to help the bones fuse together over a period of time. Patients should carefully consider the risks and benefits before choosing surgery.


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