Adult Degenerative Scoliosis

When adults get scoliosis it is known as degenerative scoliosis, or adult degenerative scoliosis. At times, this is also referred to as “adult ‘de novo’ scoliosis,” which means the scoliosis is a newly diagnosed condition in a patient who has no previous history of scoliosis. Unlike adolescent or idiopathic scoliosis, there is a known cause for degenerative scoliosis, which usually occurs in the lumbar spine.

Scoliosis describes an abnormal curvature in the spine. The curvature must deviate from the norm by 10 or more degrees to be officially diagnosed as scoliosis. Contrary to popular belief, it is not a condition that is caused by improper posture or form when exercising or playing sports. It is also something that mostly does not require surgery to correct, although patients may experience pain from scoliosis. Scoliosis most commonly occurs in adolescents who are about to embark on their journey through puberty. It is unclear whether this condition is genetic or is caused by environmental factors. For this reason adolescent scoliosis is often referred to as “idiopathic,” which means the cause is unknown.

Adult degenerative scoliosis occurs most commonly in adults age 65 or older. There is a clear cause-and-effect relationship between the deterioration of the facet joints, which allow for the movement of the spine, and the onset of this type of scoliosis. As the facet joints become worn with age, the spine starts to curve toward one side of the body. This is the same deterioration process that causes osteoarthritis.

It is hard to tell who will develop degenerative scoliosis in his or her lifetime, especially because the risk of one’s facet joints becoming deteriorated is not increased from having had scoliosis as a child. These two types of scolioses are unrelated. Someone with degenerative scoliosis may experience several symptoms, including:


  • Stiffness and pain in the mid to lower back
  • Pain or numbness in the legs and feet
  • Back pain that worsens over time
  • Pain that is worse in the morning and evening, and that improves throughout the day
  • The sensation that sitting relieves pain
  • Leg pain in one or both legs when standing or walking

Pain that stems from adult degenerative scoliosis is caused by inflammation, which is why treatment centers around pain relief rather than correcting the curvature of the spine. Treatments also aim to increase strength, flexibility, and range of motion to support the spine and reduce future pain.

Some medications that help reduce pain from degenerative scoliosis include nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory pain relievers (NSAIDs) and epidural injections or facet injections. These injections deliver anti-inflammatory medication directly to the affected area. Therapy and chiropractic manipulation may also help relieve symptoms. Contact the physicians at Garden State Pain Control to explore your options regarding scoliosis.