Treating scoliosis in adults 

Back pain is one of the main problems caused by scoliosis in adults, so treatment is mainly aimed at pain relief.

In some cases, surgery may be carried out to improve the shape of the spine as a way of helping with back and leg pains.

Medication

Painkilling medication is usually recommended to help relieve the pain that can be associated with scoliosis.

Over-the-counter painkillers, such as paracetamol and ibuprofen, are often recommended initially. See your GP if these don't work. They may prescribe stronger painkillers or refer you to a specialist pain management clinic.

In some cases, corticosteroids or local anaesthetic may be injected into your back to relieve pain caused by the bones in your spine compressing or irritating nearby nerves. However, these injections only work in the short-term and are mostly useful in helping work out where your pain is coming from.

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

Exercise

General strengthening and stretching exercises can improve your general posture and flexibility, and may help control any back pain.

Exercises can also help you maintain a healthy weight, which can reduce the strain on your back.

Some people may benefit from physiotherapy, where they are taught specific exercises to carry out.

Bracing

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

A brace may be considered as an alternative to surgery if you are not well enough to undergo an operation.

Surgery

Surgery for adults with scoliosis is usually only recommended if the curve in the spine is severe, if it’s getting significantly worse, for back pain related to standing in an abnormal posture, or if the nerves in the spine are being compressed.

There are two types of surgery:

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

These are major operations and it can take up to a year or more to fully recover from them. They also carry a risk of potentially serious complications, including:

  • failure to reduce pain – surgery is generally better at relieving pain that radiates to the legs, rather than back pain
  • the implants becoming displaced, broken or loose
  • infection
  • blood clots
  • rarely, damage to the nerves in the spine – in severe cases this can result in permanent leg numbness and the loss of bladder or bowel control

Read more about lumbar decompression surgery.


Page last reviewed: 29/01/2015

Next review due: 29/01/2017