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Johns Hopkins Health Alert

Adult Scoliosis: Could It Be the Cause of Your Back Pain?

Comments (3)

Chances are you’re one of the millions of adults in America who has experienced back pain. Sprains, strains or spasms are commonly responsible for the misery, but one cause of back pain in adults that’s often overlooked is scoliosis, or lateral (side-to-side) curvature of the spine. 

Scoliosis is usually thought of as a childhood disorder, but an estimated 6 percent of Americans over age 50 have some degree of scoliosis, as do about 15 percent of those older than age 60 who have low back pain. The numbers are likely even higher, as scoliosis frequently goes undetected in adults. 

For example, in a study of almost 1,300 adults with back pain who had a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan, Johns Hopkins researchers found that 13 percent of people age 46 to 60 and 39 percent of those over age 60 had lumbar (lower back) scoliosis. But the scoliosis was not detected in nearly 67% of cases, especially when the spinal curvature was mild (11 degrees to 20 degrees). Even in people with moderate to severe curvature (more than 20 degrees), scoliosis was undetected more than 10% of the time. 

As with scoliosis in childhood, adult scoliosis is more common in women than in men. In the Johns Hopkins study, which was published in the American Journal of Neuroradiology, females were 1.5 times as likely as males to have scoliosis. 

What Causes Scoliosis In Adults? Scoliosis in people over age 40 usually results from age-related degenerative changes to the spine such as osteoporosis, vertebral compression fractures, degenerative disk disease and spinal stenosis. These conditions can cause the spine to lose its structural stability, increasing the risk of spinal curvature. 

In other cases, scoliosis is idiopathic, meaning there is no apparent reason for its development. Most people with this type of scoliosis have had the condition since childhood, but in adulthood the scoliosis has progressed enough to cause symptoms.

Posted in Back Pain on May 13, 2011


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Health Alerts registered users may post comments and share experiences here at their own discretion. We regret that questions on individual health concerns to the Johns Hopkins editors cannot be answered in this space.

The views expressed here do not constitute medical advice, and do not represent the position of Johns Hopkins Medicine or Remedy Health Media, LLC, which has no responsibility for any comments posted on this site.


This is interesting to me because I have all of the above. I am 78 and busy but my back is a painful problem. The article does not say what can be done to help the situation.

Posted by: annepobiak | May 14, 2011 10:11 AM

I would also like to know if anything can be done about adult scoliosis.

Posted by: | June 23, 2011 11:53 AM

Adult scoliosis plus anterior twist of right hip and anterior curvature of cervical vertebra with osteoporosis (both hips replaced and rod in lower right leg from 3 different falls over past 17 years). Did PT for 5 years. Now regiment is water aerobics 3 times a week, Pilates instead of yoga for weight strengthening, ride stationary recumbant bike 20 min 2-3 times a week. Then once or twice a month kinesiology-based chiropractor treatment and massage therapy.

No more prescription drugs!! Occasionally a Tylenol PM to sleep.

Posted by: DeannaDK | June 27, 2011 9:46 PM

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