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The Scoliosis Spectrum - Surgical and Nonsurgical Treatment

Updated: Dec 29, 2021

Scoliosis, a sideways curvature of the spine, is not a single disease. It falls along a spectrum, from mild to moderate to severe. Symptoms include pain or stiffness in the mid-to-lower back and numbness or weakness in the legs or feet. Spinal alignment and curvature can be altered in many ways as a result of a birth defect, a child's growth, aging, or injury.

The most common type of spinal deformity in adults is degenerative scoliosis. But, not all adults with degenerative scoliosis experience pain. When pain does occur, a pinched nerve is typically the cause, not the curvature. In more severe cases, degenerative scoliosis can cause shooting pain down the leg (sciatica), an inability to stand up straight, and an inability to walk more than a short distance. Symptoms of severe, progressive scoliosis are similar to those of stenosis, but with visible spinal imbalance. This imbalance can result in strain on the hips and knees, the inability to walk a straight line, and falls.

The Scoliosis Research Society’s patient education brochures offer individuals a quality resource developed by experts in the field. Each brochure covers topics such as causes, symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment.

The vast majority of people with this condition are not expected to require treatment. If surgical management of adult spinal deformity is indicated, it would be for those experiencing a decline in the quality of life and when pain is no longer controlled with non-surgical efforts. The goal of spinal surgery to treat scoliosis would be to restore spinal alignment and halt the progression of the deformity.

Each year scoliosis patients make more than 600,000 visits to private physician offices, and an estimated 30,000 children are put into a brace for scoliosis, while 38,000 patients undergo spinal fusion surgery.

Spinal fusion permanently connects two or more vertebrae in your spine to improve stability, correct a deformity, or to reduce pain. Spinal fusion can help correct spinal deformities, such as a sideways curvature of the spine (scoliosis). Your spine may become unstable if there's abnormal or excessive motion between two vertebrae. This is a common side effect of severe arthritis in the spine. Spinal fusion can be used to restore spinal stability in such cases. Spinal fusion may be used to stabilize the spine after removal of a damaged (herniated) disk.


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