Adult Scoliosis: a common, progressive, but often unrecognised condition

Scoliosis is often thought of as a condition that only affects teenagers.

While it is true that the rate of scoliosis in adolescents, particularly the idiopathic type, is relatively high (0.47% – 5.2%)¹, scoliosis can actually develop at any time. In fact, contrary to popular belief, scoliosis is highly prevalent in adult populations, with estimates as high as 68% reported in patients aged 60-90 years². It is also believed that this will increase over the next 20 years as people live longer.

Adult scoliosis can have a variety of causes. The most common types are Adult degenerative scoliosis (De Novo Scoliosis) and pre-existing idiopathic scoliosis.

Adult degenerative scoliosis is often the result of newly developed asymmetrical disc degeneration/ injury, usually in the lumbar or thoracolumbar spine. The loss of disc height creates asymmetrical loading which can set up a cycle of continued degeneration and often pain.

For other adults, their scoliosis is a continued progression of one of the idiopathic forms of scoliosis (infantile, juvenile or adolescent) into adulthood. They may not have received treatment in their younger years, and their symptoms have become more severe as their curve naturally advances over the years.

While it can sometimes be difficult to differentiate between the various types of adult scoliosis, most patients will present with back pain, accompanied by a worsening posture often a forward hunch, and they report an impact on their quality of life. In the more severe cases, patients may experience leg pain, spinal cord compromise and/or walking difficulty.

As is the case for most types of scoliosis, early detection is paramount. Key indicators for adults can include:

  • A family history of scoliosis
  • Uneven shoulder heights or waist curves
  • Rib humping when bending forwards
  • Significant loss of standing or sitting height
  • Postural changes/collapse

These can co-exist with other clinical factors such as history of surgery, menopause or a diagnosis of osteopenia/osteoporosis, all of which can have a compounding effect on scoliosis progression.

Detecting early, and an accurate diagnosis combined with early treatment leads to better clinical outcomes and quality of life.  

If you’re an adult and have noticed a change in posture, are in pain, or have a family history of scoliosis, then get in touch for a screening. This detection can mean more options for treatment, and enhanced quality of life.

June is the time to spread the word, so this June make scoliosis detection a priority for all ages!

For advice and support, get in touch on 1300 883 884.

1 Konieczny MR, Senyurt R, Krauspe R. Epidemiology of adolescent idiopathic scoliosis. J Child Ortho, 2013. 7(1): p. 3-9.
2 Schwab F, et al. Adult scoliosis: prevalence, SF-36, and nutritional parameters in an elderly volunteer population. Spine, 2005. 30(9): p. 1082-5.