Diagnosing Adult Scoliosis: What to Look for and How to Measure the Severity

Scoliosis is often associated with adolescents and teens. If addressed during the developmental phases of the body, it can be largely corrected with proper bracing and adjustments, and sufferers can go on to lead a normal life. For adults, however, correcting the problem is much more difficult.

Thankfully, cases of adult scoliosis are few and far between. Those that do exist tend to fall on a spectrum of nearly undetectable, as most severe idiopathic cases were addressed in childhood. Cases that linger into adulthood require comprehensive diagnosis to determine severity and scope, while thoracolumbar scoliosis cases (adult onset) require an understanding of the catalysts to properly treat.

Ideal Spine encourages chiropractors to use a full scope of diagnostic tools in measuring the severity of adult scoliosis cases.

Diagnosing adult scoliosis

Like juvenile scoliosis, adult scoliosis is simply the presentation of abnormal curvature of the spine. It can occur in the thoracic or lumbar spine (or both), in varying degrees of severity. While severe adult scoliosis is readily apparent through visual assessment and palpation, more nuanced cases require a complement of diagnostic tools:

  • Imaging: X-rays will show the deviation of the spine from neutral, but more importantly, they’ll show asymmetry that’s indicative of scoliosis. This asymmetry may be present in the hips or shoulder, and it’s usually qualified by spinal misalignment indicative of scoliosis.
  • Gait assessment: Checking the wear on a patient’s shoes or having them perform a series of walking tasks can reveal problems with gait indicative of scoliosis. In adults, this may also present in the form of instability, such as issues with balance or fast-twitch muscle response.
  • Neuromotor assessments: Testing left and right coordination or tactile capabilities is a good way to measure the severity in which improper spinal curvature has affected development of a person’s motor functions.

These tests are generally more qualitative in nature and taken first, to get a baseline for the presence of adult scoliosis and the context for how it’s affecting the body’s biomechanics. Following are several quantitative options for measuring the severity of adult thoracolumbar scoliosis:

  • Cobb Angle Measurement: This will determine the maximum degree of spinal variation, providing context for severity in a quantifiable angle.
  • King Classification: This looks at the vertebral alignment to determine variance in key vertebrae from neutral center position.
  • Lenke Classification: This assessment of the spine relies on measurements of three positions, providing context for flexibility.

When used together, qualitative measurements and quantitative analyses combine to form a picture of total severity. When assessing adult scoliosis, this is extremely important for understanding how to proceed with treatment. The body is no longer developing, meaning bracing isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach as it may be with juvenile idiopathic cases.

At Ideal Spine, our reliance of Chiropractic BioPhysics (CBP) adjustments makes us keenly familiar with the assessment modalities used to investigate adult scoliosis cases. We believe in the value of having both qualitative and quantitative insights, and we encourage chiropractors to combine them for a superior treatment approach.

Chiropractic BioPhysics® corrective care trained Chiropractors are located throughout the United States and in several international locations. CBP providers have helped thousands of people throughout the world realign their spine back to health, and eliminate a source of chronic back pain, chronic neck pain, chronic headaches and migraines, fibromyalgia, and a wide range of other health conditions. If you are serious about your health and the health of your loved ones, contact a CBP trained provider today to see if you qualify for care. The exam and consultation are often FREE. See for providers in your area.

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