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

The main options are:

Painkillers

Exercise

Spinal injections

Back braces

Surgery

If the condition isn't severe and isn't causing any pain, treatment may not be needed.

There is a separate page about treatments for scoliosis in children.

Painkillers

Painkilling tablets may help relieve the pain that can be associated with scoliosis.

Anti-inflammatories, such as ibuprofen, are usually the first treatment recommended. These are available to buy from pharmacies and supermarkets without a prescription.

But anti-inflammatories aren't suitable for everyone, so check the box or leaflet to see whether you can take the medicine first. Speak to a pharmacist if you're not sure.

See your GP if over-the-counter painkillers don't work. They may prescribe stronger painkillers or refer you to a specialist pain management clinic.

Exercise

Activities that strengthen and stretch your back may help reduce your pain. Exercise can also help you maintain a healthy weight, which can reduce the strain on your back.

It doesn't matter what type of exercise you choose – the important thing is to keep your back moving. Choose something you enjoy and are likely to be able to stick with.

Some people may also benefit from doing back exercises taught by a physiotherapist. These are unlikely to improve the curvature of your spine, but may help with your pain.

If you have scoliosis, it's a good idea to speak to a healthcare professional – such as a GP, scoliosis specialist or physiotherapist – before starting a new exercise programme to check it's safe.

Spinal injections

Scoliosis can sometimes irritate or put pressure on the nerves in and around your spine, causing pain, numbness and a tingling sensation that can be felt in your lower back down to your feet.

In these cases, injections of steroid medication and local anaesthetic given into your back may help.

But the benefits of these injections tend to only last a few weeks or months, so they're not usually a long-term solution.

Back braces

Back braces aren't often used in adults with scoliosis, but they can provide pain relief by supporting your spine.

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

Surgery

Most adults with scoliosis won't need spinal surgery.

But it may be considered if:

  • the curve in your spine is severe or getting significantly worse
  • you have severe back pain and other treatments haven't helped
  • the nerves in your spine are being irritated or squashed

Types of surgery

Several different surgical techniques may be used, such as:

  • laminectomy – where a section of one of the bones in your spine (vertebrae) is removed to relieve pressure on the affected nerve
  • discectomy – where a section of one of the gel-like discs between the vertebrae is removed to relieve pressure on a nerve
  • spinal fusion – where two or more vertebrae are joined together to stabilise, strengthen and straighten the spine

In many cases, a combination of these techniques will be used.

Risks of surgery

Spinal surgery is a major operation and it can take up to a year or more to fully recover.

It also carries a risk of potentially serious complications, including:

  • failure to reduce the pain – surgery is generally better at relieving pain that radiates to the legs, rather than pain in the back
  • a wound infection
  • a blood clot
  • rarely, damage to the nerves in the spine – this can result in permanent leg numbness or weakness, or some degree of paralysis in rare cases

Scoliosis Association UK has more information about surgery for degenerative scoliosis and advice for before and after surgery.

Page last reviewed: 03/02/2017

Next review due: 03/02/2020