Causes of Scoliosis

Adolescent Idiopathic Scoliosis and other types of scoliosis have different causes

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Because there are different types of scoliosis, there are different causes. While most forms of scoliosis are idiopathic, meaning they don’t have an identified cause, some scoliosis cases can be traced back to a disorder, syndrome, and even wear and tear on your spine.

adolescent idiopathic scoliosis, preoperative x-ray

Below are the types of scoliosis that have known causes.

Congenital Scoliosis
Congenital means "present at birth." Congenital scoliosis is the result of malformation of part of the spine, and this malformation happens sometime in the third to sixth week of a pregnancy—that's when the spine starts to develop. Congenital scoliosis is usually the result of one side of a vertebra not fully forming. Doctors call this growth imbalance a hemivertebra, and it causes the spine to grow crooked. Congenital scoliosis can also occur when vertebrae don't segment like they should; they're naturally fused together in what's called a block vertebra. That also affects how the spine grows.

Neuromuscular Scoliosis
Children who have a neurological system disorder, such as cerebral palsy or spina bifida, can develop neuromuscular scoliosis. In this type of scoliosis, the spine usually takes on a long, “C”-shaped curve because the children have very weak trunks and aren't able to support their bodies.

Syndromic Scoliosis
Scoliosis can develop in conjunction with separate syndromes, namely connective tissue disorders (eg, Marfan syndrome), muscular system-related disorders (eg, muscular dystrophy), and/or skeletal dysplasias (eg, dwarfism).

Adult Degenerative Scoliosis
This type of scoliosis becomes apparent later in life. It usually occurs when the disease went unnoticed or was not treated during childhood. Osteoporosis, disc and joint degeneration, a spinal compression fracture, or a combination of these problems can contribute to the development of adult scoliosis. When spinal structures begin to degenerate due to wear and tear, it can cause an abnormal curvature in the spine.

The Most Common Forms of Scoliosis Remain a Mystery
More than 80% of scoliosis cases are idiopathic, so there’s no known cause. Idiopathic scoliosis is most common in girls, and adolescent idiopathic scoliosis is the most common type of scoliosis.

Idiopathic scoliosis is broken down into four types:

  • Infantile idiopathic scoliosis is the term used for children 0 to 3.
  • Juvenile idiopathic scoliosis refers to children ages 4 to 10.
  • Adolescent idiopathic scoliosis is scoliosis found in children ages 11 to 18.
  • Adult idiopathic scoliosis is the term for people over age 18 who've reached skeletal maturity (ie, their bones are fully grown).

Do Genetics Matter with Scoliosis?
Increasingly, scientists are finding evidence that some cases of scoliosis run in families. In fact, approximately 30% of young people with adolescent idiopathic scoliosis have some family history of scoliosis, according to the Scoliosis Research Society. So, if someone else in your family has or had scoliosis, you have a greater risk for developing it.

Regardless of the type or the cause, scoliosis can be managed with appropriate treatment. If you suspect you or a loved one has symptoms of scoliosis, a spine specialist will help you understand the cause (if any) and develop a treatment plan that will preserve a good quality of life.

Updated on: 02/03/17
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Childhood Testing for Scoliosis
Mary Rodts, DNP
This article was reviewed by Mary Rodts, DNP, CNP, ONC, FAAN.
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