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Why is Sciatica Often Seen in Adult Scoliosis Cases


Scoliosis, a condition characterized by an abnormal curvature of the spine, can manifest in various forms and affect individuals of different age groups. While it is commonly associated with adolescents, adult scoliosis poses its own set of challenges, one of which is the frequent occurrence of sciatica. Dr. Andrew Strauss explores the connection between adult scoliosis and sciatica, delving into the mechanics of the spine and the potential consequences when the curvature exceeds a certain threshold.

Understanding the Spinal Mechanics

The human spine is a complex structure that plays a crucial role in supporting the body and facilitating movement. When the spine deviates from its normal alignment, as is the case with scoliosis, it can lead to a myriad of issues. Dr. Andrew Strauss, explains, “Once the twisting of the spine exceeds around 20 percent, you’re going to start to get herniations in the discs.”

Herniated Discs and Back Pain

Herniated discs are a common consequence of scoliosis, particularly in adults. These discs act as cushions between the vertebrae, providing flexibility and absorbing shocks during movement. As the spine twists and distorts in scoliosis, the discs can become compressed, leading to herniations. The primary effect of herniated discs is often back pain, specifically in the lower back.

Sciatica: The Common Culprit

The association between adult scoliosis and sciatica lies in the impact of herniated discs on nerve roots. Dr. Andrew Strauss elucidates, “The common effect of herniated discs is back pain, lower back pain, and pain shooting down the legs, which is what we call sciatica.” Sciatica, characterized by pain radiating along the sciatic nerve, is a prevalent issue in individuals with adult scoliosis.

Distinguishing True Sciatica from Referred Sciatica

It is essential to distinguish between true and referred sciatica to comprehend the nature of the pain experienced by individuals with adult scoliosis. Dr. Andrew Strauss differentiates the two, stating, “True sciatica makes the person feel like there’s a burning poker in the center of their leg – a very painful sensation. Referred on the other hand, is characterized by pain shooting down the leg and numbness in the feet.”

Prevalence of Referred Sciatica in Scoliosis Cases

In the context of adult scoliosis, referred sciatica is a more common manifestation. This type tends to be associated with a shooting pain down the leg and numbness in the feet. The curvature of the spine in scoliosis can directly affect the nerves, leading to these symptoms. Understanding the prevalence of referred sciatica in scoliosis cases is crucial for both patients and healthcare professionals.

Mechanisms Behind Referred Sciatic Pain in Scoliosis

To comprehend why referred sciatica is frequently observed in adult scoliosis cases, it is imperative to delve into the underlying mechanisms. The abnormal curvature of the spine exerts pressure on the nerves, causing pain signals to be transmitted down the leg. Additionally, the compression of nerve roots can result in numbness in the feet. As a consequence, individuals with adult scoliosis often experience referred sciatic pain as a direct consequence of the spinal misalignment.

Diagnostic Challenges and Treatment Approaches

Diagnosing sciatica in the context of adult scoliosis can pose challenges due to the complexity of symptoms. Healthcare professionals must carefully assess the patient’s medical history, conduct thorough physical examinations, and utilize imaging studies to identify the precise cause of the sciatic pain. Once diagnosed, a comprehensive treatment approach is essential.

Treatment may involve a combination of physical therapy, pain management techniques, and in severe cases, surgical intervention to address the underlying scoliotic curvature. Dr. Andrew Strauss emphasizes, “Understanding the root cause of the sciatica is crucial for tailoring an effective treatment plan. It’s not just about managing the symptoms; it’s about addressing the structural issues contributing to the pain.”


In conclusion, the connection between adult scoliosis and sciatica is rooted in the complex interplay of spinal mechanics, herniated discs, and nerve compression. As the spine twists beyond a certain threshold, herniations occur, leading to back pain and sciatica. Distinguishing between true and referred sciatica is essential in understanding the nature of the pain experienced by individuals with scoliosis. Referred sciatica, characterized by pain shooting down the leg and numbness in the feet, is a common manifestation in adult scoliosis cases. Recognizing the mechanisms behind this pain and adopting a comprehensive approach to diagnosis and treatment are crucial steps in effectively managing sciatica in the context of adult scoliosis.

Also read: Scoliosis: Why is the Watch and Wait Model Antiquated


Dr. Strauss is the director of the Hudson Valley Scoliosis Correction Center in New York. He has been actively engaged in scoliosis treatment for the past 30 years and has authored two books on the subject, Your Child Has Scoliosis and The Truth About Adult Scoliosis

He is Vice President of the CLEAR Scoliosis Institute and a lecturer for their introductory and advanced workshops.  He is certified in scoliosis bracing and in the use of  scoliosis specific exercises.  Dr. Strauss is a graduate of the ISICO World Masters of Scoliosis.His postgraduate studies also include a Masters Degree in Acupuncture as well as training in Grostic, Pettibon, CBP, Clinical Nutrition, Chinese Herbal Medicine, Manipulation under Anesthesia, and Electrodiagnosis.

His scoliosis practice has treated patients from 25 states and 32 other foreign countries.If you have questions about childhood and adult scoliosis and how it can be successfully treated without surgery subscribe to our channel!