Degenerative scoliosis, also known as adult onset scoliosis, describes a side-to-side curvature of the spine caused by degeneration of the facet joints and intervertebral discs which are the moving parts of the spine. This degeneration and resulting spinal asymmetry can occur slowly over time as a person ages. This is a completely different cause of scoliosis from the standard adolescent onset scoliosis.
If degenerative scoliosis becomes symptomatic, pain can range from a dull back ache to excruciating sensations that shoot down the leg, commonly referred to as sciatica, and make walking difficult or impossible.
How Degenerative Scoliosis Develops
When healthy, facet joints are like hinges that help the spine bend smoothly, and intervertebral discs are like cushions that absorb shock between vertebral bones. Everyone experiences natural degeneration of these joints and discs due to aging—the same processes that cause osteoarthritis and degenerative disc disease—but for some people these degenerative processes are accelerated and/or cause more symptoms.