Can Scoliosis Develop Later in Life?

Jan 04, 2024

Can Scoliosis Develop Later in Life?

Scoliosis, a condition characterized by an abnormal curvature of the spine, is commonly associated with adolescence. However, it can develop later in life, presenting unique challenges and considerations for adults.

Our team at Coastal Spine, with multiple locations in New Jersey, specializes in diagnosing and treating painful, sometimes chronic, spine and joint conditions that can affect mobility and overall quality of life.

We’re happy to explain more about adult-onset scoliosis, how it differs from other types, and how we can help.

Understanding scoliosis

Scoliosis can manifest in various forms, ranging from a mild sideways curvature of the spine to a more severe curve that can interfere with mobility. It’s usually noticed in early adolescence before the skeletal system has reached maturity and tends to worsen during growth spurts.

In most cases, adolescent scoliosis has no known cause (idiopathic). It’s generally mild enough to require no treatment other than observation to ensure the curvature doesn’t exceed 40 degrees. At that point, some children benefit from bracing to slow curve progression, and a few may require surgical correction.

However, adult-onset scoliosis is usually due to other causes that develop later in life. Treatment varies, depending on the underlying cause and symptoms.

Causes of adult-onset scoliosis

While adolescent idiopathic scoliosis is the most common form and typically develops during growth spurts, adult-onset scoliosis has distinct causes.

Contributing factors include:

Degenerative changes

Osteoarthritis and degenerative disc disease can lead to changes in the spine's structure, causing curvature over time.

Untreated adolescent scoliosis

In some cases, scoliosis that goes undetected or untreated during adolescence may worsen in adulthood, possibly affected by degenerative changes.

Muscle imbalances

Weakness or imbalances in the muscles or ligaments supporting the spine can influence spinal misalignment, possibly contributing to scoliosis.

Adult scoliosis may not cause symptoms. However, osteoarthritis, disc disease, and other underlying conditions can cause chronic or intermittent back pain. 

You may also notice changes in posture, height loss, decreased flexibility, and reduced range of motion in the spine.

Treating adult-onset scoliosis

Managing adult-onset scoliosis involves a multidisciplinary, conservative approach and varies from one individual to the next. Based on evaluation results, your Coastal Spine specialist may recommend treatment for herniated discs, facet joint arthritis, and other degenerative changes affecting your spinal health.

You may benefit from guided physical therapy to improve muscle strength and flexibility, providing support to the spine.

Our pain management team can also work with you to develop a strategy that may include medication, injection-based therapy such as cortisone injections to reduce inflammation, and other measures to alleviate discomfort.

Should conservative therapies fail, surgical intervention may be an option in severe cases, aiming to correct the curvature and stabilize the spine.

Schedule an evaluation at Coastal Spine today. Call the office nearest you to make an appointment.