Degenerative Scoliosis

Degenerative Scoliosis

Scoliosis is most commonly seen as a disease found in children and adolescents, but degenerative scoliosis is prevalent in older adults as well. Unlike adolescent scoliosis, there is a known cause for degenerative scoliosis in adults. It occurs when the spinal discs begin to deteriorate and the spine falls into an unnatural curve without the support of those discs. Also called de novo scoliosis, which is Latin for ‘from the new,’ degenerative scoliosis is not generally found in anyone under 40 years old.

Causes of Degenerative Scoliosis

Spinal discs do not necessarily degenerate as people age. However it is common to see discs deplete in people over 40. Most often, lifestyle choices cause friction in the spine that, over time, wears down the discs. Seemingly small compromises or maladaptations can build up to an eventual end result of degenerative scoliosis. For example, poor posture while sitting at a desk day after day, lifting heavy objects incorrectly, or not exercising on a regular basis can all add up to eventual spinal disc degeneration.

Spinal osteoarthritis, which occurs when the joints of the spine break down, and osteoporosis, which is reduced bone mass, often appear together with degenerative scoliosis. Certain people can also be genetically predisposed. Some people have spinal discs that are naturally better at holding water than others, and are thus less likely to wear down and cause problems. It’s often thought that the causes of degenerative scoliosis as we know them boil down to a 2:1 ratio, 2 parts environment and 1 part genetics.

A sedentary life does not a healthy spine make. The root cause of the majority of degenerative scoliosis cases is a lack of motion. Spinal discs are able to replenish their liquid level naturally, but they do this through movement. Healthy spine movement sends moisture and nutrients to these discs via increased blood flow. Without movement and the moisture that it brings, the discs will continue to deplete.

On an x-ray, degenerative scoliosis typically has a steep curve in the lower back (lumbar region), and the middle bone in the curve often slips off to the side (lateral listhesis) due to weak fibers in the depleted discs. The holes for the spinal nerves often shrink as well, causing a shooting pain in the hips and legs. Lower back pain and changes in posture are telltale signs that it’s time for a visit to your chiropractor.

Treatment Options

There are only a few traditional treatment options for degenerative scoliosis. Braces are a common treatment for scoliosis in teens. They’re not as effective on a fully developed spine, although some types of soft braces might help with pain in adults. Most treatments center around medication to manage the pain or surgery. Doctors will often recommend surgery to correct the degenerative curve. However, adult spinal surgeries carry a higher risk of complications and more lasting side effects than their adolescent counterparts.

If the spinal discs are deteriorating and causing the problem, the logical way to reverse this would be to restore the health of the discs. Alternative scoliosis-specific exercises and therapies aim to do just that. Asymmetrical mobility exercises and therapies work to strengthen the muscles that have grown lax on the inside of the curve and tighten those on the outside of the curve. They’ve been shown to open up the closed wedge in the middle of the back to increase motion and re-establish good front to back curves. By focusing on balancing and strengthening those muscle groups that have weakened from inactivity on the inside of the curve, the muscles are able to hold the spinal column in its natural position once more.

This is not so different from the alternative treatments of idiopathic scoliosis. Regardless of the cause of the scoliosis, the body falls into the same patterns. When CLEAR doctors treat degenerative scoliosis, they pay close attention to the bone slipping sideways (lateral listhesis) in the middle of the curve. By focusing on this area, they can relieve and prevent the shooting pain in the hips and legs.

Rehabilitation for degenerative scoliosis can take a long time, often a year or longer. But if you’re willing to put in the time and the effort, it can be done. Some alternative treatments can make you feel better right away, but it’s important to keep going with the treatments. You want to stabilize the good curves, so they don’t revert back to their degenerative states.


Walking, proper ergonomics, and spinal exercises can work to prevent degenerative scoliosis from occurring in the first place. It might take a while to get used to, but good posture is also important for spinal health. Sit up straight with your head centered over your shoulders and try to avoid hunching those shoulders. Kind of like brushing your teeth, practicing good posture and doing regular spinal exercises is important for your spine’s health and can prevent all sorts of back problems.

Degenerative scoliosis can be painful and cumbersome, but it doesn’t need to be a permanent part of your life. Without the complications of a risky surgery, alternative treatments have achieved real results. Be sure to talk to your doctor about all of your options before you make your treatment decision.

Have you tried an alternative treatment for degenerative scoliosis? How did you like it? We’d love to hear about your experience in the comments below.

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17 comments on “Degenerative Scoliosis”

  1. I was told that I have degenerative scoliosis that had been getting worse and more painful every day. Without insurance and a provider, the free clinic is about it. But I have been trying for the last 5+ yrs after an injury to my back, the first yr I couldn't do much of anything but shine because the pain from the 2 ruptured discs were excruciating. I started taking about 20+ ibprophen a day. With little pain relief. Before the accident I had amazing posture. Hurting seemed to be relieved a little by me bending over and to the left...need I say more? Well I started noticing I couldn't right myself anymore after about a yr. Without GREAT pain. Both in my back, hips and stomach. I found it almost impossible to breath and I began getting acid reflux and heartburn so bad I couldn't breath at all! I was in dire straights. I was told by a friend and by my delving into scoliosis myself..that if I could just get the muscles in front to relax more maybe I could straighten out a little and hold myself up a little better. So I decided to try inversion. I have been utilizing the inversion table about 2 times a day for about 10 mins. A day. It seems to of helped with my heartburn and breathing a little. I can't be sure how ling I will have to do this but it took 5 yrs of painful posture to get this we' ll have to wait and see. Thanks for being there clear.

    1. Thank you very much for taking the time to share your story and experiences! There are many people who have said that inversion therapy has helped them with scoliosis. Interestingly enough, however, there have never been any scientific studies conducted on the effect of inversion tables upon scoliosis. Perhaps this would be a good topic for future research...

    2. You might want to check out exercises that stretch the psoas, a set of muscles deep in the body that help you stand upright. When you contiually bend your body because it hurts you shorten the psoas. You must use exercise specifically created to stretch to psoas because stretches and the like wont target those muscles. People who sit a great deal would also benefit from such exercises.

  2. It seems very odd that no scientific studies have been done to determine effect of inversion tables on scoliosis. Who could get this study done and in the journals? Sounds like a great idea to help people with scoliosis.

    1. You raise a very good point! Unfortunately, there isn't much funding for research into non-bracing, non-surgical methods of scoliosis treatment in the US. The only people who would be likely to fund such a study would be the manufacturers of inversion tables!
      Logan Chiropractic College did some preliminary research into scoliosis and hanging traction... the results honestly weren't that impressive. Dr. Paul Harrington also did some research on bed rest as a treatment for scoliosis. Removing (or reversing) gravity might have some benefit for the muscles, but it isn't going to correct or reduce the curvature of the spine. Plus, when it comes to the spinal discs, intermittent traction is proving to be more effective than constant, sustained traction.
      It's also worth noting that most scoliosis specialists do not utilize or recommend inversion therapy for their scoliosis patients, although if the patient feels that it helps and wants to continue using it, there's nothing wrong with using inversion therapy in moderation in most cases.

  3. In 1962 I had an extensive spinal fusion for scoliosis and until I was in my early 60's it was never a problem in my life.. I had to retire at 62 due to the fact I could not work on my feet for 12 hour shifts. I was a nurse for over 30 years. Also an accomplished equestrian for 40 years. Then it seemed as over night, I had many problems with my back. Nothing seems to be offered to me except extensive and risky bi-approach surgery. Two doctors even refused to Rx me a brace. I went and got my own. What are some options that could be used to help this progressively worse problem.. And can it shorten my life span? Thank you

    1. Have you tried reaching out to a CLEAR Certified Chiropractor? You can find a list here:
      Our doctors are trained in specialized therapies that can sometimes provide relief where other approaches fail - even in people who have had the surgery in adolescence. While the topic of whether or not scoliosis causes a reduction in life expectancy is controversial, it cannot be denied that scoliosis can cause a reduction in the quality of life. I hope that you can meet with a CLEAR doctor to find out if they will be able to help you!

  4. I'm 41 yrs old and was just diagnosed with Scoliosis last week. It's something the Dr. said I was born with but no one has ever mentioned before. I finally broke down and went to the Dr. after suffering for nearly two years with this pain. Up until the last year, the pain would come and go. Now it's constant any time I stand or walk. My quality of life has diminished significantly. They plan to start me on injections next week to see If that will help. I needed an MRI but due to money I was unable to get it. So all I've had so far is an X-ray. Is it safe to have injections without an MRI? I'm sure the Dr. wouldn't do it if not but I'm just nervous. I too have an inversion table but it seems lately that I hurt more AFTER using it than I do before. Has anyone else experienced this?

    1. Hello, and thank you for taking the time to share!
      May I ask what type of injections you are referring to? Do you know if they are steroid injections, perhaps, or prolotherapy/regenerative medicine? Where are they planning on delivering the injections? I'm friends with a fantastic doctor in Richfield, MN, Dr. Ron Hanson MD, who might be able to help answer some of your questions. You can reach out to him here:
      Regarding inversion tables, my father doesn't usually recommend them to the patients in his clinic. You're certainly not the only person to notice a worsening of symptoms after using one; it's actually quite common. Inversion can worsen back pain, and also can cause problems with blood pressure (NEVER use an inversion table if you have hypertension or are taking a blood thinner, or if you have glaucoma or a history of hernias). Part of the problem as well is that it can take 15-20 minutes of inversion for the muscles to relax enough for the traction to start affecting the spinal discs, and most people cannot tolerate hanging upside-down for this long, as over-doing it can cause many other problems. Far better than inversion therapy, in my opinion, is swimming and water activities, which provide a weightless environment for the spine and help to improve the health of the spinal discs, without the risk of serious side effects.

  5. I used an inversion table for my back problems. After 4 times, I woke up one morning with Bells Palsy on the left side of my face. It finally went away. But I met a man that was learning to walk and talk again after a stroke. He said using an inversion table caused a blood clot to loosen and gave him a stroke. Then it hit me that after using the inversion table I had Bells Palsy. Needless to say, my inversion table went into the dumps! Now I'm doing therapy with dry needles and electerol stimulation. Doing much better!

  6. I think something is off base here. I was a baby jock at 8, and that activity level didn't end until age 54 when multiple sclerosis slowed me down but by no means stopped me. Today, at 61, even in braces and on crutches, I still walk at least a mile a day. So it's not inactivity with me. What is it?

    1. When one or more joints in the spine become "stuck" or restricted, other segments will often become hypermobile to compensate for the lack of motion in the restricted segments. Global ranges of motion can be preserved even if individual segments of the spine aren't getting any motion. When two bones of the spine aren't moving as they should, the disc between them starts to degenerate at an accelerated rate. Exercise, yoga, and other physical activities won't be as effective as they normally would in bringing water and nutrients to that disc, either, since those vertebrae aren't functioning properly. This is why good chiropractic care is so essential to maintaining a healthy spine; exercise alone won't fix spinal misalignments and subluxations!

  7. In 1990 I had a slip & fall on over waxed floor, ended up with left TOS,&RSD. At Physical therapy they fractured my pelvis bone. I spent 6 years in & out of bed, finding it most comfortable lying on my right Side. At74 years I found I had Scoleosis ATypical, 65 % curve, I am 75 years have osteopina, surgery was recommended by some Neurologists, I know that is not for me! live in PA. please give me any suggestions!

    1. I am sorry to hear that. It sounds like you've had quite the journey. Scoliosis surgery is very aggressive, but there are other options besides surgery. I would recommend having your x-rays sent to the CLEAR doctor closest to you to determine if you would be a candidate for CLEAR Scoliosis Treatment.

  8. I'm 71 year old woman & never knew there was treatment for scoliosis. I've been doing Chiropractic since I was about 35 & that's seemed to help. Recently the lower part of the spine has changed some which caused much pain in my hip, low back & pains going into buttocks. That has stopped & only use pain relieving cream or back patches. Also have
    COPD & can't exercise other than shower & walking in house. Can treatment work at this late stage?

    1. Hi, Sara! Thanks for the question. That’s great to hear that you’ve been under chiropractic care half your life! That’s amazing!!! I am sure that has helped you a lot to manage quality of life. The CLEAR method is a system of managing scoliosis that includes chiropractic care. This method is highly specialized and specific to scoliosis. A CLEAR certified physician will be able to help you. You can search for a provider near you here. It absolutely can be helped at any age. We look forward to helping you improve your quality of life. Have a great day.

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