How to Deal with Adult Degenerative Scoliosis

How to Deal with Adult Degenerative Scoliosis Image

Adult Degenerative Scoliosis, aka ADS, is a disorder in which the patient has degenerating vertebrae along their spine. ADS is unique and different from regular scoliosis in the sense that it can seem to develop in a short amount of time, often occurring in less than a year.

So, how do you deal with Adult Degenerative Scoliosis? Doctors have determined that chiropractic adjustments and exercises are some of the best ways to treat ADS. You may also require a back brace, depending on the severity of your case of ADS.

While Adult Degenerative Scoliosis can be a tricky disability to deal with, you'll find this article will lend a helping hand in the process. The key to treating scoliosis is consistent, high-quality care from a licensed medical professional.

What Causes Adult Degenerative Scoliosis?

Several factors can cause ADS. Older adults are much more susceptible to it than younger people, although it's not exclusive to any particular age group above 18 years of age.

Adult Degenerative Scoliosis.

ADS patients might also see osteoporosis occurring in their bones. In combination, these two disorders can cause pain, discomfort, and lifelong damage.

Adult Degenerative Scoliosis always seems to set on rather quickly, but it's often a slow process. The vertebrae in question degenerates over time, eventually giving way and causing a slump or misalignment on one side of the spine.

Here are a handful of the most common causes of Adult Degenerative Scoliosis:

Spinal Compensation

When one or more vertebrae start to slide in a random direction, the spine tends to compensate for the difference. At first, the patient won't notice much of a change, since the spine's curve is correcting for the compensation. However, this sliding motion eventually slips and causes the patient to hunch on one side or another.


As mentioned previously, osteoporosis can go hand in hand with scoliosis. However, it can also be a cause of ADS.

When the vertebrae start to become porous and lose their strength, they can crack or slide much easier than they usually would if they were healthy. This cracking or sliding can also lead to a slump and the onset of ADS.

Non-Treatment of Minor Scoliosis Symptoms

Another cause of Adult Degenerative Scoliosis comes when a patient with a mild to moderate case of scoliosis doesn't treat their symptoms. 

If they try to handle it on their own, the pressure of the curved spine can push one or more vertebrae out of place. An S-shaped or C-shaped misalignment can occur in these cases.


Genetic traits are also a common factor that causes ADS. Look through your family tree to see if anyone else has scoliosis, ADS, AIS, or any other form of the condition.

Unfortunately, not everyone can completely avoid scoliosis if it runs in their family. There are a few other rare cases of Adult Degenerative Scoliosis caused by various other issues.

However, the causes mentioned above are the most common reasons that people end up developing the disorder.

Diagnosis typically includes talking it over with a doctor to pick out familiar symptoms to ADS, followed by a possible X-ray.

The Symptoms of Adult Degenerative Scoliosis

There are plenty of symptoms that may be a part of Adult Degenerative Scoliosis. 

The main problem is that the patient in question might not even feel back pain. Sometimes foot, hip, and knee pain can be directly correlated to scoliosis. 

This pain in non-back areas occurs because the nerves along the spine can be pinched, sending waves of pain to various parts of the body.

When a patient goes in to see the doctor, they tend to focus solely on the problem area. If someone has foot pain, the doctor usually looks at their foot. When they have hip pain, the focus is on the hip, and so on. 

However, doctors who are familiar with or who specialize in scoliosis will know to view the spine's curvature. There are also tests (such as the Risser-Ferguson and Cobb Angle tests) that allow you to see if an appointment is necessary.

There are a significant number of symptoms that can be found in a person who has ADS, but these are the primary expectations:

Sudden Shortness or Slumping

When a patient goes from not even realizing that they have any spinal issues to suddenly being shorter or slumped on one side, ADS is a common diagnosis.

Since it can't truly show itself unless the patient goes under an X-ray for another reason, ADS can sometimes sneak up unexpectedly.

Pain on One Side of the Body

Hip, knee, leg, and foot pain on one side of the body is another frequent symptom of Adult Degenerative Scoliosis. 

Pain on One Side of the Body.

ADS causes the spine to slide in one direction, so the slump mentioned throughout this article can cause excruciating pain for the patient. Depending on which vertebra is affected, different parts of the body might experience pain.

Neck Pain and Headaches

Nagging neck pain might accompany ADS because the neck is where the spine connects to the base of the skull. This connection point can be put under pressure when scoliosis shifts the spine in one direction.

Headaches are also a symptom that goes with neck pain in ADS patients.

Limited Movement

Limited movement is another frequent symptom that comes with scoliosis in adults. Not only does the pain stop people from performing daily tasks, but the actual curve on the spine can hinder movements in a non-painful manner.

This hindrance might come in the form of not being able to lift one's arm above their head, limited mobility when bending over, and overall reduced flexibility.

What Are the Treatments for Adult Degenerative Scoliosis?

There are a few treatment plans for adults who suffer from ADS. While treatment can be an excruciatingly painful process, the result is almost always relief for nearly every patient. 

ADS will not go away on its own, so you should try to deal with it before it becomes an even bigger issue later on down the road.

Here are the three most effective ways to deal with Adult Degenerative Scoliosis:

Chiropractic Adjustments

  • When a patient is diagnosed with ADS, chiropractic adjustments are often in order. These adjustments cause popping noises of varying noise levels along the spine - the noises might seem concerning, but the treatments help to relieve tension, pockets of air, and stressed muscle tissue.
  • In extreme cases of ADS, some patients can't go straight to the chiropractor for intense sessions. They often have to focus on a single area of the spine, such as the lumbar or the upper neck, which tend to be the most likely spots for older adults and senior citizens. After a few treatment cycles, patients can typically see improvement through routine meetings with a chiropractor.

Back Braces

  • A back brace is often recommended for patients who want to be able to deal with their symptoms at home, as it's not always possible to see a doctor or another medical professional several times a week. 
  • While a high-quality back brace can only slightly adjust and align the spine, it also reduces pain dramatically.
  • Unfortunately, there are a large number of generic back braces on the market. These braces aren't designed to deal with scoliosis symptoms, so people suffering from ADS shouldn't use them. 
  • While generic braces can reduce some of the pain, the root of the problem is never going to be solved with a low-quality back brace on its own. In some instances, a generic brace can even make things worse.

Exercises and Stretches

  • Certain exercises and stretches can loosen the spine and relax the muscles. ADS can cause the tissue surrounding the spine to become inflamed, which can constrict the vertebrae and prevent it from responding to treatment. 
  • Through massages, exercises, and stretches, an ADS patient will see results at a much faster pace.

When a patient has severe Adult Degenerative Scoliosis or a spinal curvature over 40 degrees, they might not be able to perform these exercises and various movements fully at first.

The brace and chiropractic adjustments mentioned above will slowly increase the mobility of the patient, allowing for more effective exercises.

Adult Degenerative Scoliosis or a spinal curvature.

While these are the primary three treatments recommended by medical professionals in the field, there are undoubtedly other suggestions out there.

But before you start self-diagnosing and dealing with ADS at home, you should consult a medical professional to find out if you actually have Adult Degenerative Scoliosis.

Treatment Schedules for Patients with ADS

There are two common treatment schedules that patients who experience Adult Degenerative Scoliosis use to improve their condition. 

  • One of them is called the standard schedule, whereas the other is known in most circles as intensive care. 
  • Almost every adult diagnosed with ADS thinks that the intensive care schedule is the best option and that they need to jump into it right away. 
  • However, both methods are effective ways to combat ADS. 
  • The main differences are that the schedules take different lengths of time to complete, and each is suited for different types of patients.

Let's examine the primary differences between the two types of schedules:

Standard Schedules

  • The standard schedule is designed for the average patient and is the one that most patients will use. It's not any less valid, or any more painful, and the same equipment is used as in the Intensive option.
  • Standard schedules typically require visits to the medical professional that you're dealing with three times a week for four weeks. Another four-week round may be necessary, depending on the severity of scoliosis.
  • After this routine plays through, your doctor will probably go over the three treatment goals that we're going to discuss in the next section.

Intensive Care 

  • An intensive care schedule might sound daunting, but it merely means the treatment process moves faster. When someone goes through this routine, they're usually on some sort of time crunch. Travelers and doctors or other professionals who are in the area for a short time might use an intensive care schedule instead of the typical standard option.
  • This schedule usually requires visits two times a day for two weeks. 
  • The downside to the speed is that it's much more physically and mentally demanding on the patient. Those who thought it would be a golden ticket now see that it's merely an expedited scenario for people who need results quickly for one reason or another.

To figure out which schedule you should pick, see your local medical professional. Keep in mind that these schedules are typical, but are not guaranteed to use the same lengths or visit frequencies that we describe here. 

Now that we've reviewed the schedules, it's time to discuss the review process. 

Reevaluation and the Three Goals of ADS Treatment

When doctors finish a schedule of treatment for Adult Degenerative Scoliosis, they will try to determine if the patient is feeling or seeing any improvement in their symptoms. These improvements can range from physical pain to cosmetic misalignments and differences.

The reevaluation period is similar to the goals that they have in mind, but there are a few dissimilarities between the two. Both sets are necessary to figure out what steps should be taken next, including home care or self-treatment beyond monthly adjustments and other recommendations.

Reevaluating a Patient's ADS Symptoms After Treatment 

When someone finishes a full schedule, most professionals will evaluate the situation. This can let them know if recovery is occurring or if extreme measures need to be taken. 

Below are some of the most common reevaluation factors used by doctors and chiropractors.

Symptom Severity

Determining how the patient is feeling is a great way to know immediately if the work is functioning as it should. Adjustments, braces, and exercises work wonders by relieving pain and reducing discomfort. Doctors also want to see if the patient feels more mobile, similar to how they did before being diagnosed with Adult Degenerative Scoliosis.

Reduction of Spine Curvature

Viewing the curve of the spine and looking for a degree reduction is another major part of the reevaluation process. Doctors usually look for at least 10 degrees of improvement, although larger amounts are still common. In some cases, the spine can straighten by as much as 30 degrees after a cycle of the recommended schedule.

Normal Walking

After a successful ADS rehabilitation period, patients should be able to walk normally and move without restrictions.

Feeling stable and not shaky or off-balance is essential to ADS recovery, and is, therefore, one of the main signs of improvement that doctors look for. 

Normal Walking

The reevaluation period is only part one of a two-part process for the post-schedule procedure.

Medical professionals almost always set goals to see if their patients meet or exceed them during and after the schedule. 

In the next section, we'll cover the three primary goals that are set for every patient suffering from ADS.

Three Goals of ADS Treatment 

The following ADS recovery goals are designed to get the patient back to normal life as quickly as possible.

1. Getting Out of Pain

Getting the patient out of pain is undoubtedly the most important part of the adjustment and treatment process. 

Adult Degenerative Scoliosis can often produce unbearable pain, which prevents the patient from performing daily activities that would otherwise be easy and pain-free.

Before any other step is taken, pain reduction is almost always at the forefront of the goals set by professionals.

2. Preventing Further Misalignment

Preventing the curvature angle and misalignment from increasing is the second most important goal in the process.

If you're going through treatment and the curve is getting more severe, changes must be made to the recovery process.

A simple test or an X-ray can be used to determine if progression has gotten worse or stopped.

3. Reducing Spine Curvature

After removing the pain and preventing the progression of the curvature, professionals look to reduce the degree of the curve. 

If all three of the treatments mentioned above are used and performed correctly, patients can and will notice a reduction in the curve of their spine. As previously mentioned, 10 degrees or more is a fantastic start to the process.

If any of these goals aren't met, the doctor in question will assign another series of treatments, possibly with a more intense routine.

However, following your doctor's treatment regimen will almost always result in pain reduction, prevention of worsened symptoms, and a reduction in the curve from the completion of the initial schedule.


Adult Degenerative Scoliosis can be painful, debilitating, and disheartening. However, it's a very treatable condition. If you have ADS, proper treatment and a willingness to improve can work wonders at reducing pain and reversing the curvature of your spine. 

The best ways to treat and reverse ADS symptoms include chiropractic adjustments, ADS-specific exercises, and 3D back braces. If you suspect you have ADS, talk to a medical professional before starting any type of treatment regimen. 

Additional Resources:

“The author’s views are his or her own and may not reflect the views of CLEAR Scoliosis Institute.”

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Author: Dr. J Hartley

Dr. J Hartley, known as Dr. J, was diagnosed with scoliosis as a young teenager. In the 1970’s, the options given were watch and wait, or surgery. Faced with these two options, no treatment was provided. Not until his own 12-year-old was faced with progressive scoliosis did he find the CLEAR Institute. His daughter visited the CLEAR Institute in St. Cloud, MN for Intensive Care and had good results. She could return to running and soccer. Dr. J decided to return for Intensive Care for himself and the rest is history. He has now been focused on scoliosis detection, prevention, and reduction for over 6 years. Dr. J graduated from the Palmer College of Chiropractic, Davenport, Iowa in 1992. He became a Board Chiropractic Neurologist in 1995 and a Board Certified Intensive Care Scoliosis Doctor in 2015.
Reach out to Dr. J Hartley

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2 comments on “How to Deal with Adult Degenerative Scoliosis”

  1. I have a friend who says she has degenerative scoliosis. She wears a brace on one leg and uses a walker. She's 62 years old. She is scheduled to have extensive back surgery in April which will include two external fixators . Can this disease affect speech? She has slurring of speech which happened at the onset of her difficulty walking. I am worried for her and thinks she might have something else.
    She is determined to have this surgery which will take at least 9 months to recup. Any advise? What can I tell her to give her some assurance she is doing the right thing? Thank you for your input.

    1. Hello, Ellen,
      That is very kind of you to care so much about your friend. Degenerative scoliosis can indeed affect walking and mobility to the point where it could require a walker. I suggest contacting the CLEAR Scoliosis Institute certified doctor closest to her to determine if she would be a candidate for care that could assist in helping her with her mobility issues or possibly even avoid surgical intervention. Oftentimes, when an orthopaedic surgeon feels the scoliosis is severe enough, they do recommend surgery. However, speech is not something that is commonly affected by scoliosis. I would say it is more likely something else causing that problem. Please let us know if there is anything further we can assist with. Best of luck to her.

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