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Understanding Degenerative Scoliosis in Adults

Key Highlights

  • Degenerative scoliosis is a type of spinal curvature that commonly affects adults.
  • It is caused by degenerative changes in the spine, such as disc degeneration and osteoporosis.
  • Treatment options for degenerative scoliosis include non-surgical treatments like physical therapy and pain management, as well as surgical interventions like spinal fusion.
  • Living with degenerative scoliosis may require daily life adjustments and the use of coping strategies to improve quality of life.
  • Ongoing research and advancements in treatment offer hope for future therapies for degenerative scoliosis.


Degenerative scoliosis is a condition that affects the curvature of the spine in adults. Unlike idiopathic scoliosis, which is typically diagnosed during childhood or early adolescence, degenerative scoliosis develops later in life. It is often associated with age-related changes in the spine, such as degenerative disc disease and osteoporosis.

As we age, the discs in our spine can wear down, leading to a loss of height and the development of spinal deformities. This can result in the development of degenerative scoliosis, where the spine curves to the side. While the degree of curvature may vary, it can cause discomfort, pain, and impact the individual's quality of life.

In this blog, we will explore the definition, causes, signs and symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment options for degenerative scoliosis in adults. We will also discuss the importance of physical therapy and rehabilitation, as well as the daily life adjustments and coping strategies that can help individuals with degenerative scoliosis live a fulfilling life. Additionally, we will explore the future outlook and ongoing research in the field, providing hope for improved treatment options in the future.

What is Degenerative Scoliosis?

Unlike idiopathic scoliosis, which has no known cause, degenerative scoliosis is caused by degenerative changes in the spine that occur as a person ages.

These degenerative changes can include disc degeneration, osteoporosis, and changes in the facet joints of the spine. As these changes occur, the spine may become misaligned and develop a curve to the side. Degenerative scoliosis is most commonly seen in the adult population, typically in individuals over the age of 65.

Definition and Overview

Degenerative scoliosis is a condition characterized by an abnormal curvature of the spine. While the spine normally has natural curves in the sagittal plane (front to back), degenerative scoliosis involves a lateral curvature in the coronal plane (side to side). This three-dimensional problem can affect the entire spine, including the cervical, thoracic, and lumbar regions.

The curvature in degenerative scoliosis is typically caused by degenerative changes in the spine, such as disc degeneration, osteoporosis, and changes in the facet joints. These changes can lead to a loss of disc height, bone density, and stability in the spine, resulting in the development of a spinal curve. Degenerative scoliosis is most commonly seen in adults, especially those over the age of 65.

Causes of Degenerative Scoliosis in Adults

There are several factors that can contribute to the development of degenerative scoliosis in adults. While the exact cause is often unknown, certain risk factors and degenerative changes in the spine can increase the likelihood of developing this condition.

One of the main risk factors for degenerative scoliosis is age. As we get older, the discs in our spine can degenerate and lose height, leading to instability and curvature of the spine. Other risk factors include degenerative disc disease, which can cause disc herniation and spinal instability, and osteoporosis, which can weaken the bones and contribute to spinal curvature.

Changes in the facet joints of the spine, which are responsible for the movement and stability of the spine, can also play a role in the development of degenerative scoliosis. When these joints degenerate, it can lead to instability and curvature of the spine. Other factors such as genetics and family history may also contribute to the development of degenerative scoliosis.

Signs and Symptoms of Degenerative Scoliosis

The signs and symptoms of degenerative scoliosis can vary depending on the severity of the spinal curvature. In some cases, individuals may not experience any noticeable symptoms, while others may experience pain and discomfort.

One common symptom of degenerative scoliosis is lower back pain. This pain may be dull or sharp and can be aggravated by certain movements or activities. In addition to pain, individuals with degenerative scoliosis may also experience changes in their posture and the appearance of a spinal deformity, such as a hump or uneven shoulders.

Recognizing the Early Signs

Early recognition of the signs of degenerative scoliosis is important for early intervention and treatment. While some individuals may not experience any noticeable symptoms, there are certain signs that may indicate the possibility of scoliosis. These signs include:

  • Uneven shoulders
  • Shoulder blades that stick out
  • Head not centered directly above the pelvis
  • Uneven waist
  • Elevated hips
  • Constant leaning to one side
  • Uneven leg length

If you notice any of these signs, it is important to schedule an appointment with a healthcare provider for a thorough evaluation. Early intervention and treatment can help prevent the progression of the spinal curvature and minimize the impact on daily life.

When to Seek Medical Advice

If you have severe scoliosis or are experiencing medical problems as a result of your condition, it is important to seek medical advice. Severe scoliosis can cause significant pain, impact mobility, and affect the overall quality of life.

Individuals with severe scoliosis may experience difficulty breathing, nerve damage, and other complications. Additionally, if the curvature of the spine is progressing rapidly, it may require medical intervention to prevent further damage and minimize the impact on daily life.

If you are unsure whether or not to seek medical advice for your degenerative scoliosis, it is always best to consult with a healthcare provider.

Diagnosis of Degenerative Scoliosis

Diagnosing degenerative scoliosis involves a comprehensive evaluation by a healthcare professional. This includes a clinical evaluation, taking into account the patient's medical history, physical examination, and family history. Diagnostic tools such as X-rays, CT scans, and MRI scans are used to assess the severity and extent of the spinal curvature. X-rays provide a clear view of the structure of the vertebrae and joints, while CT scans offer detailed images of the spinal canal and surrounding structures. MRI scans are particularly useful in visualizing the spinal cord, nerve roots, and any degenerative changes or deformities.

Clinical Evaluation and History

During the clinical evaluation, a healthcare professional will conduct a physical examination to assess the patient's posture, range of motion, and any noticeable abnormalities in the spine. They will also inquire about the patient's family history of scoliosis, as there is a genetic component to the condition. Additionally, the patient's medical history will be taken into consideration, including any underlying conditions or previous spine surgeries. This comprehensive evaluation helps in understanding the individual's specific case of degenerative scoliosis and guides further diagnostic and treatment decisions. It is important for patients to provide accurate and detailed information during the evaluation to ensure an accurate diagnosis and appropriate management plan.

Advanced Diagnostic Tools and Imaging

Advanced diagnostic tools such as MRI and CT scans play a crucial role in the diagnosis of degenerative scoliosis. MRI scans use magnetic fields and radio waves to create detailed images of the spinal cord, nerve roots, and surrounding structures. This helps in identifying any compression or degenerative changes that may be contributing to the scoliotic curvature. CT scans, on the other hand, provide a cross-sectional view of the spine, allowing for a closer examination of the spinal canal and any bony abnormalities. These imaging techniques provide valuable information about the extent and severity of the scoliotic curvature, enabling healthcare professionals to develop an appropriate treatment plan tailored to the individual patient's needs.

Treatment Options for Degenerative Scoliosis

The treatment options for degenerative scoliosis depend on the severity of the condition and the impact it has on the patient's quality of life. Non-surgical treatments may include physical therapy to improve strength and flexibility, injections to manage pain, and the use of braces for support. Surgery may be necessary in more severe cases. This can involve spinal fusion to stabilize and straighten the spine or decompression surgery to relieve pressure on the spinal nerves. Pain management techniques, both nonsurgical and surgical, play a crucial role in enhancing the patient's quality of life.

Non-surgical Treatments and Their Effectiveness

Non-surgical treatments are often the first line of management for degenerative scoliosis. Physical therapy plays a vital role in improving muscle strength, posture, and flexibility. Physical therapists design tailored exercise programs to target specific muscle groups and improve core strength. Injections, such as epidural steroid injections or nerve blocks, can help manage pain associated with degenerative scoliosis. Bracing may also be recommended, particularly for adolescents with a growing spine, to help prevent further curve progression. These non-surgical treatments aim to improve symptoms, slow down curve progression, and enhance the patient's overall quality of life.

Surgical Interventions and When They Are Necessary

Surgical interventions are usually considered when non-surgical treatments fail to adequately manage the symptoms or when the spinal curvature is severe and causing significant pain or functional impairment. Scoliosis surgery typically involves spinal fusion, where the vertebrae are fused together using bone grafts and instrumentation, such as rods and screws, to stabilize and straighten the spine. Decompression surgery may also be performed to relieve pressure on the spinal nerves by removing bone or tissue that is compressing the nerves. The decision to undergo surgery is based on a thorough evaluation of the patient's individual case and the potential benefits and risks associated with the procedure.

Physical Therapy and Rehabilitation

Physical therapy and rehabilitation are essential components of the overall management of degenerative scoliosis. Rehabilitation programs are designed to improve strength, flexibility, and posture, as well as alleviate pain and enhance functional abilities. Physical therapists use a variety of exercises and techniques tailored to the specific needs of the patient. These exercises may focus on core strengthening, flexibility, and postural correction. Physical therapy can help patients regain mobility, improve their overall physical function, and enhance their quality of life.

Exercises Tailored for Degenerative Scoliosis

Exercises tailored for degenerative scoliosis aim to improve core strength, flexibility, and posture. Core strengthening exercises help support the spine and stabilize the body, reducing strain on the affected areas. These exercises may include abdominal strengthening, back extension exercises, and exercises that target the muscles supporting the spine. Flexibility exercises, such as stretching and range of motion exercises, help improve mobility and reduce muscle tension. Physical therapists work closely with patients to develop individualized exercise programs that address their specific needs and goals. Regular participation in these tailored exercises can help improve muscle strength, flexibility, and overall function, leading to a better quality of life for individuals with degenerative scoliosis.

Goals and Benefits of Physical Therapy

The goals of physical therapy for individuals with degenerative scoliosis include improving mobility, reducing pain, and enhancing overall physical function. Physical therapy can help individuals regain strength, flexibility, and stability, enabling them to perform daily activities with greater ease. Physical therapists also provide education on proper posture and body mechanics to minimize strain on the spine. The benefits of physical therapy include improved muscle strength, increased flexibility, reduced pain and discomfort, enhanced mobility, and improved overall quality of life. Regular participation in physical therapy exercises and rehabilitation programs can lead to better long-term outcomes and help individuals with degenerative scoliosis manage their condition effectively.

Living with Degenerative Scoliosis

Living with degenerative scoliosis requires making certain adjustments to daily life and developing effective coping strategies to manage the condition. It may involve making ergonomic adjustments at home and work to ensure proper support for the spine. Engaging in regular exercise and physical therapy can help manage symptoms and improve quality of life. Support systems, such as support groups and counseling, can provide emotional and mental support for individuals living with degenerative scoliosis. Developing effective coping mechanisms and seeking support can enhance overall well-being and improve the quality of life for individuals with degenerative scoliosis.

Daily Life Adjustments

Living with degenerative scoliosis often requires making certain adjustments in daily life to manage symptoms and prevent further discomfort. This may involve making lifestyle changes, such as maintaining a healthy weight and engaging in regular physical activity to support overall spine health. Ergonomic adjustments to the work environment and home can help provide proper support for the spine, such as using ergonomic chairs and desks. Daily activities may need to be modified to minimize strain on the spine, such as lifting heavy objects correctly and avoiding activities that exacerbate pain. These adjustments can help individuals with degenerative scoliosis maintain an active and fulfilling lifestyle while managing their condition effectively.

Support Systems and Coping Strategies

Living with degenerative scoliosis can be challenging both physically and emotionally. Support systems, such as support groups and counseling, play a crucial role in providing individuals with degenerative scoliosis the emotional and mental support they need. Support groups offer a platform for individuals to share experiences, seek advice, and connect with others facing similar challenges. Counseling can help individuals develop effective coping mechanisms to manage the emotional impact of living with degenerative scoliosis. It is important to have a strong support system in place to address the psychological and emotional aspects of the condition, ultimately enhancing overall well-being and quality of life.

Future Outlook and Research

The future outlook for degenerative scoliosis holds promise with ongoing research and innovations in treatment. Researchers are continually exploring new treatment options and therapeutic approaches to manage degenerative scoliosis more effectively. Innovations in surgical techniques, such as minimally invasive procedures, and advancements in imaging technology contribute to improved outcomes and reduced recovery time. Additionally, clinical trials and research studies provide valuable insights into potential discoveries and advancements in the field. The future holds the potential for more targeted and personalized therapies for degenerative scoliosis, aiming to improve patient outcomes and enhance the quality of life for individuals with this condition.

Innovations in Treatment

Innovations in the treatment of degenerative scoliosis are paving the way for more effective management strategies. New treatments and surgical techniques are being developed to address the specific needs of individuals with degenerative scoliosis. Technological advancements, such as computer-assisted navigation systems and robotic surgery, are improving the accuracy and precision of surgical interventions. These advancements contribute to better outcomes and reduced risks associated with surgery. Furthermore, ongoing clinical trials and research studies are exploring novel therapeutic approaches and evaluating the long-term benefits of innovative treatments. The continuous progress in the field of degenerative scoliosis treatment offers hope for improved patient care and better quality of life for individuals living with this condition.


In conclusion, understanding degenerative scoliosis in adults is crucial for early detection and effective management. By recognizing the signs, seeking medical advice promptly, and exploring various treatment options, individuals can improve their quality of life and maintain mobility. With advancements in physical therapy, surgical interventions, and ongoing research, there is hope for better outcomes and enhanced support systems for those living with degenerative scoliosis. It's essential to stay informed, proactive, and engaged in your healthcare journey to ensure optimal well-being and a positive future outlook.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can degenerative scoliosis lead to other health issues?

Yes, degenerative scoliosis can lead to other health issues. Severe cases of degenerative scoliosis can cause compression of the spinal canal, leading to complications such as bowel and bladder dysfunction, as well as nerve damage. It is important to seek medical advice if you experience any unusual symptoms or changes in your condition.