Living with Adult Scoliosis: Know Your Options

If you—or someone you love—is living with adult scoliosis, you’ve come to the right place to learn about care options you may have never considered. We’ll cover a few basics and then discuss helpful, non-surgical options that can reduce pain, increase functionality and improve posture.

What is scoliosis?

Scoliosis is an abnormal curvature of the spine. The human spine is innately designed with three curves, creating an “S” shape from the side. An individual with scoliosis will have a lateral (side-to-side) curve, greater than 10 degrees, which often results in an “S” or “C” shape from the front or rear view of the body. While this side-to-side curve isn’t necessarily detectable to the naked eye, many people with scoliosis have noticeably uneven shoulders, waist or hips, a rib hump or prominence of the lower back on the side with the curvature.

Adult Scoliosis

What causes scoliosis?

Most scoliosis cases are “idiopathic,” which means “no known cause.” There are a few types of scoliosis seen in adults:

Idiopathic Curve: This is the most commonly seen type of scoliosis and, usually, there is no clear cause of the spinal curve.

Congenital Curve: “Congenital” means the spinal abnormality was present at birth. These cases are rare and typically diagnosed in childhood.

Paralytic Curve: Often resulting from a spinal cord injury, paralytic curve means that the muscles around the spine do not work. This can cause abnormal curvatures of the spine.

Myopathic Deformity: Similar to paralytic, myopathic means that the muscles do not work properly. This can result in atypical curves in the spine caused by conditions such as muscular dystrophy, cerebral palsy or polio.

Secondary: Other spinal conditions that affect the vertebrae, such as degeneration, osteoporosis and osteomalacia, can cause scoliosis. This is referred to as “secondary” scoliosis. Spinal surgery can also result in an imbalance in the spine, leading to a scoliosis diagnosis.

What are the degrees of scoliosis?

An abnormal curvature greater than 10 degrees is considered scoliosis. Curves within the 20 to 40 degree range are considered moderate forms of scoliosis. These moderate forms should be monitored and therapies, such as chiropractic care and supportive bracing, can be used to increase function and diminish degeneration over time.

What is adult scoliosis?

Adult scoliosis is typically a continuation of adolescent scoliosis, which is commonly diagnosed during teenage years. Typically, these adolescent patients are diagnosed with Idiopathic Adolescent Scoliosis (IAP). There are cases where adults can develop scoliosis, however, the vast majority have had scoliosis for much of their life.

Someone diagnosed with adult scoliosis could have:

  • Been diagnosed as a teen
  • Worn a corrective brace as a teen
  • Recently been diagnosed
  • Developed scoliosis as an adult
  • Daily or chronic pain
  • Adapted to pain over time

More significantly, a person with adult scoliosis could believe there is nothing more that can be done to improve their quality of life. We’re here to help.

FAQs: Adult Scoliosis and Chiropractic Treatment

If you’re living with adult scoliosis, you may be surprised to learn that treatments such as chiropractic adjustments and therapies, as well as use of a supportive brace, can help reduce pain, thwart further degradation and increase your quality of life. We sat down with longtime chiropractor, Dr. Chirag Shah, D.C., and asked him many frequently asked questions for those with adult scoliosis.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is degenerative adult scoliosis?

Also referred to as Adult “De Novo,” degenerative scoliosis occurs due to age and deterioration of the spine, which contributes to the development of an atypical or scoliotic curve in the spine. For some patients, most often women, osteoporosis is another contributing factor.

What are the symptoms of degenerative adult scoliosis?

Typically, patients with degenerative adult scoliosis experience low back pain. These patients, who have not been previously diagnosed with scoliosis during adolescent years, wind up at an orthopedist, chiropractor or spine specialist due to the pain, and then are diagnosed with scoliosis. Over time, the increased pressure on nerves, due to the scoliotic curve, can lead to weakness, numbness and pain in the lower extremities. Severe cases can result in the loss of coordination and mobility.

How can a chiropractor help with scoliosis?

Like all other treatments for scoliosis, aside from the corrective brace prescribed to adolescents with scoliosis, chiropractic does not correct, cure or reverse scoliosis. Chiropractic adjustments and therapies help to improve form (therefore, improving function), and induce mobility into the joints. These improvements can decrease pain, increase comfort and improve posture. Chiropractors can also address other symptoms or issues the patient may be experiencing, and help prevent further degradation of the spine. 

How can chiropractic help a patient with scoliosis feel better overall?

Many patients with scoliosis have struggled with a lifetime of discomfort, physically and emotionally. Most people with scoliosis are diagnosed during the difficult teen years and many have worn bulky, uncomfortable and visible braces during these formative years. Some patients carry these discomforts and insecurities with them into adulthood, and slight or significant improvements in posture can help a patient with scoliosis feel less self-conscious and better about their appearance overall.

What is a scoliosis brace for adults?

Unlike the corrective braces worn during adolescent years, the adult scoliosis brace is supportive, more comfortable and worn for shorter periods. At Chiro One offices, we have the Peak Scoliosis Bracing System. This brace features a more comfortable and adjustable design, and typically, the brace is for short-term wear (between 4-12 hours a day). The brace helps to reduce pain and pressure, release tension, improve posture, enhance mobility and increase quality of life.

If I have been diagnosed with scoliosis, should I see a chiropractor?

Absolutely. A chiropractor is an excellent member of your support team. An expert in the musculoskeletal system, your chiropractic physician offers invaluable insight and treatment options. Also, chiropractic care can help halt or diminish further degeneration of the spine. Patients with scoliosis often experience other spinal issues due to dysfunction caused by the abnormal curvatures in their spine. Scoliosis patients at many of Chiro One’s chiropractic offices have benefitted from chiropractic adjustments, therapies and the Peak Scoliosis Bracing System.

If I suspect I may have scoliosis, should I see a chiropractor?

Yes, your chiropractic physician can diagnosis scoliosis and determine the degree of curvature. If your curve is under 40 degrees, your chiropractor can prescribe an individualized treatment plan. For those in the 10 to 40 degree range, it is critical to receive chiropractic treatment to help diminish, delay or halt further degeneration in the spine. If your curve is over 40 degrees, some doctors will recommend surgery due to the degree of curvature, which can compress and damage organs in the body.

I have a Harrington rod, is chiropractic safe for me?

Yes, you can choose chiropractic care if you have a Harrington rod. Chiropractors utilize different techniques for adjusting, often using gentle tools and methods like the Activator Method (a small tool that allows the chiropractor to use a minimized amount of force for an adjustment). These alternative adjustments can achieve the same benefits as “typical” adjustments performed on patients without scoliosis. Ask your chiropractor if he or she has experience treating a patient who has a Harrington rod or spinal surgery, and disclose any information regarding your surgery prior to treatment.

What should I expect from my chiropractor?

At a chiropractic evaluation, you should expect to:

  • Discuss family and health history
  • Take X-rays of your spine
  • Receive an individualized treatment plan tied to specific goals

All of our doctors at Chiro One Wellness Centers are experienced in treating patients with scoliosis, and many patients have reported success in relieving pain, improving posture, increasing functionality and boosting confidence.

or talk to your Chiro One team for more information.