What's the Treatment for Scoliosis?

Medically Reviewed by Tyler Wheeler, MD on December 19, 2022
3 min read

After your scoliosis diagnosis, you’ll be referred to an orthopedic doctor, who will work with you to determine the best way to treat your curved spine.

How your condition is managed depends on your age, the type of scoliosis you have, the measurement of your back’s curve, and your other medical conditions. For kids, the doctor will take into account how much more the patient is likely to grow.

They’ll also consider any symptoms you have that can be caused by severe curves, like pain, limited body function, and breathing problems. Your scoliosis treatment will fall into one of three categories:

  • Observation
  • Nonsurgical options, such as a brace
  • Surgery

Mild curves, like those found in 90% of scoliosis cases, typically don’t require treatment.

If your child has this condition, your family doctor may recommend the wait-and-see approach. Some kids develop “idiopathic” scoliosis, meaning doctors don’t know what caused it. This normally happens in the middle of their growth-spurt years, from ages 10 to 18. 

Doctors will monitor kids whose backbones curve at angles of less than 20 degrees.

As a child’s body changes in puberty, the curve may stay the same or get worse.

If your child’s curve measures between 20 and 40 degrees, their doctor might recommend that they wear a back brace to help stop its progress as they grow. But a brace can’t correct a curve.

Braces may be made of hard plastic. These can stay rigid or be elastic and move easily. The kind your child needs will depend on how severe their curve is and where it’s located. They may wear the brace between 16 and 23 hours a day, until they finish growing. The goal is to control the curve so they won’t need surgery.

When curves are between 45 and 50 degrees, they’re usually expected to get worse and may even affect how the lungs work. In cases like this, your doctor may recommend spinal fusion surgery, which has been shown to stop the increase of curves.

During this operation, the small bones of the spine that are curved will be fused. As your child’s back heals, these vertebrae will form a single straight bone. Because growth in this area of the spine has been stopped, the curve shouldn’t change anymore.

The operation will require a bone graft and can take from 4 to 8 hours. Your child's surgeon will help you decide when your child should go back to school after surgery. 

If you’re an adult with degenerative scoliosis, your doctor might recommend physical therapy, stretches, and exercises to help you build up your strength. Over-the-counter medication and using a brace for short periods of time might help to relieve your pain. If your legs bother you, an epidural or nerve block injection can offer temporary relief.

You may be disabled by pain in your back or legs from degenerative scoliosis. This can reduce the quality of your life. If nonsurgical treatments haven’t helped you, it may be time for an operation.

Surgery can improve your spinal balance and relieve nerve pressure on your spine, which helps with pain. The bones in your spine may be fused together to correct its alignment.

After spinal surgery, you’ll need plenty of time to recover, many follow-up visits to your doctor, and physical therapy. Before your operation, talk with your family and friends about the kind of support you’ll need as you get better. Some people choose to stay in a nursing home or rehabilitation facility for a while after surgery.

You might consider chiropractic treatment, nutritional supplements or electrical stimulation to help your scoliosis. But know that none of these has been shown to stop changes in spinal curves. Consult with your pediatrician before seeking these alternative treatments. 

While exercise doesn’t have a direct effect on scoliosis, it’s important to stay fit and maintain a healthy weight at every age. Activities like running, walking, and soccer can help keep your bones strong. That’s especially important if you have to deal with scoliosis as you get older.