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Scoliosis is a curvature of the spine that occurs most often in adolescents, but adults develop the condition too. An estimated 60 percent of the older population have what is known as adult scoliosis. As people live longer and are more active, this number is expected to increase.

Adult scoliosis is most common in people between the ages of 50 and 80. It is characterized by a side-to-side curvature of the spine caused by degeneration of the spine's facet joints, which act as hinges to help the spine bend.

As people age, the cartilage that protects the joints may develop arthritic changes, causing the joints to become irritated and inflamed resulting in back and leg pain. Some adults had childhood scoliosis that worsened with age or was untreated in their youth.

Spinal curvature is measured in degrees. Unlike the slow progression of adolescent scoliosis, adult scoliosis can remain the same, can progress slowly and can progress at higher rates of more than 3 degrees a year. Often, the condition causes significant physical pain and can impact quality of life.

Our Approach to Scoliosis

UCSF is home to one of the largest centers in the country dedicated to evaluating and treating spinal disorders such as scoliosis. Patients have access to the most up-to-date diagnostic imaging techniques and to innovative treatments that are not widely available. Our team includes world-renowned specialists in neurosurgery, orthopedic surgery, neurology, pain management, physical therapy, psychiatry, radiology and rheumatology. These experts work together to personalize a plan for each patient.

Treatment for scoliosis usually begins with physical therapy to stabilize the spine and medications to manage pain. Patients who do not respond to these treatments may require spinal surgery. Our team’s expertise in state-of-the-art surgical repair and rehabilitation results in less time under anesthesia, faster recovery and, ultimately, improved quality of life.

Awards & recognition

  • usnews-neurology

    Among the top hospitals in the nation

  • usnews-orthopedics

    One of the nation's best for orthopedic care

  • usnews-neurology

    Best in California and No. 2 in the nation for neurology & neurosurgery

  • Rated high-performing hospital for spinal fusion

UCSF Health medical specialists have reviewed this information. It is for educational purposes only and is not intended to replace the advice of your doctor or other health care provider. We encourage you to discuss any questions or concerns you may have with your provider.