Treating scoliosis in adults 

In adults, treatment usually focuses on relieving any pain.

Medication

Painkilling medication is usually recommended to help relieve the painful symptoms associated with scoliosis.

Paracetamol is usually the first line of treatment. If paracetamol does not work, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen, can be used.

If you are experiencing nerve pain as a result of your spine compressing or irritating the nerve endings, a nerve block may be recommended. This involves having local anaesthetic injected directly into the affected nerves. A nerve block should provide short-term relief because the local anaesthetic stops the pain signals that are being transmitted from the nerves reaching your brain.

If it is thought that osteoporosis of your spine is contributing to your symptoms, you may be given medication and supplements to help strengthen your bones. Find out more about treating osteoporosis

Braces

Braces are not often used to treat scoliosis in adults, although they can provide pain relief.

If you find that walking irritates your spine because one leg is longer than the other due to the curve of your spine, you may benefit from using special shoe inserts called orthotics that can help correct your posture.

Exercise

General strengthening and stretching exercises are commonly advised for people with scoliosis. These may be carried out alone or combined with other treatments.

However, there is some debate as to the effectiveness of exercise in helping people with scoliosis. Recent research into this issue has shown no evidence for or against exercise as a treatment for scoliosis.

Nevertheless, exercise remains a good way to improve your general health and wellbeing.

Read more about health and fitness.

Surgery

Due to the relatively high risks associated with spinal surgery, surgery for scoliosis is usually only recommended in severe cases.

Surgical options for scoliosis include:

  • decompression surgery – if a disc is pressing down on a nerve, a section of the disc can be removed to reduce the pressure on the nerve
  • spinal fusion surgery – where the position of the spine is corrected using metal rods, plates or screws before being fused into place using bone grafts

Common complications of spinal surgery include:

  • the surgery fails to achieve a significant reduction in symptoms of pain; this occurs in around 30% of adults with scoliosis
  • in cases of spinal fusion surgery, sections of the spine may fail to fuse together properly; this occurs in an estimated 5-10% of cases

Less common complications of spinal surgery include:

  • infection – which occurs in an estimated 1 in 50 cases
  • blood clots – which occur in an estimated 1 in 100 cases
  • retrograde ejaculation in men – where sperm travels backwards into the bladder when you ejaculate rather than out of your penis; this happens as a result of nerve damage and occurs in an estimated 1 in 100 cases

More serious nerve damage can result in the loss of bladder or bowel function and cause urinary and bowel incontinence. However, this is rare.

Read more about lumbar decompression surgery.


Page last reviewed: 19/02/2013

Next review due: 19/02/2015