Find Information About:

Drugs & Supplements

Get information and reviews on prescription drugs, over-the-counter medications, vitamins, and supplements. Search by name or medical condition.

Pill Identifier

Pill Identifier

Having trouble identifying your pills?

Enter the shape, color, or imprint of your prescription or OTC drug. Our pill identification tool will display pictures that you can compare to your pill.

Get Started

My Medicine

Save your medicine, check interactions, sign up for FDA alerts, create family profiles and more.

Get Started

WebMD Health Experts and Community

Talk to health experts and other people like you in WebMD's Communities. It's a safe forum where you can create or participate in support groups and discussions about health topics that interest you.

  • Second Opinion

    Second Opinion

    Read expert perspectives on popular health topics.

  • Community


    Connect with people like you, and get expert guidance on living a healthy life.

Got a health question? Get answers provided by leading organizations, doctors, and experts.

Get Answers

Sign up to receive WebMD's award-winning content delivered to your inbox.

Sign Up

Back Pain Health Center

Font Size

Scoliosis Outlook Not So Grim

Most With Untreated Spine Curve Suffer Few Problems
WebMD Health News

Feb. 5, 2003 -- Most adults with untreated curvature of the spine do just fine. That's the finding of an extraordinary 50-year study of people with scoliosis.

Not all scoliosis is the same. The most common form is called late-onset idiopathic scoliosis. It's a curving of the spine that for no apparent reason strikes otherwise healthy children after age 10. But there are other, less common forms that can be much more severe.

You get a grim picture if you lump all types of scoliosis together. That's why doctors once thought -- and why many people still believe -- that scoliosis inevitably leads to a twisted body, crippling back pain, and damage to the lungs and heart. To get a better picture, Stuart L. Weinstein, MD, led a University of Iowa team that looked at 117 untreated scoliosis patients diagnosed as long ago as 1932. They report their findings in the Feb. 5 issue of TheJournal of the American Medical Association.

"By closely studying this group of patients for more than 50 years, we have learned that patients with untreated late-onset scoliosis can function well as young adults, become employed, get married, have children, and grow to become active older adults," Weinstein and colleagues write. "Unfortunately, patients with untreated late-onset scoliosis can develop significant deformity, and the cosmetic aspect of this condition can not be disregarded."

This "cosmetic aspect" is a slow-but-sure curving of the back that gets worse with age. It does cause back pain, but few of the patients in the study needed narcotic painkillers to control their pain. Indeed, the scoliosis patients in the study reported little more back pain than did a similar group of people who did not have scoliosis. Moreover, scoliosis did not cut their lives short or lead to early disability.

Depending on the severity of the condition, some adolescents may need back braces while their bones mature. However, some doctors question this treatment. Some adolescents and adults with scoliosis may need -- or want -- spinal-fusion surgery to prevent further curving.

In an editorial accompanying the Weinstein report, Paul D. Sponseller, MD, of Johns Hopkins University, writes that adult scoliosis varies widely from patient to patient. Surgery to correct further spinal curvature has its own problems, he notes, although it has a low complication rate. He praises the study for giving doctors and their patients an honest look at what's likely to happen if late-onset scoliosis isn't treated.

"Since bracing and surgery are not problem free, patients can be counseled to match treatment to their preferences," Sponseller writes.

Today on WebMD

Woman holding lower back
Or is it another form of back pain?
Hand on back
See the myths vs. the facts.
Woman doing pilates
Good and bad exercises.
acupuncture needles in woman's back
Use it to manage your pain.
Man with enhanced spinal column, rear view
pain in brain and nerves
Chronic Pain Healtcheck
Health Check
break at desk
Woman holding lower back
Weight Loss Surgery
lumbar spine
back pain