Possible Causes of Scoliosis

April 1, 2024
Dr. Mark Wang is a fellowship-trained and board-certified orthopedic spine surgeon. He dedicates his full attention to working together with his patients to identify their pain source and find the least invasive treatment that works for them.


Your spine naturally has a slight forward and backward curve, however, with scoliosis, your spine curves from side to side and can cause a C or S shape. While the exact cause of scoliosis is unknown in most cases, learning possible causes and treatment options can help you make informed care decisions to regain your quality of life.

How Is Scoliosis Diagnosed?

The first step in diagnosing scoliosis is to perform a screening. Most pediatricians and primary care physicians perform scoliosis screenings during your annual check-up. During a screening, your doctor will ask you to remove your shirt so they can see your spine as you complete tasks like standing up straight or bending forward. Your provider may also ask the following questions:

  • What is your and your family’s medical history?
  • Do you remember when you first noticed a change in your spine?
  • Do you have any symptoms?
  • Are you experiencing any issues with your bladder, bowels or general motor functions?

If your provider sees any curvature in your spine or you’re experiencing symptoms, they will order some imaging tests. Generally, a doctor will take X-rays from the front and side to gain a complete picture of your spine. If needed, you may undergo other imaging tests, like an MRI and CT scan. If your provider determines your scoliosis requires treatment, you will receive a referral to an orthopedic spine specialist.

When Is Scoliosis Diagnosed?

Most individuals receive their scoliosis diagnosis between the ages of 10 and 15. As you age, your spine is subject to degeneration, which can result in it curving. Due to this, many adults receive a scoliosis diagnosis later in life. You can also have a scoliosis diagnosis as an adult if your scoliosis is mild and your pediatrician did not detect it during your visits.

How Does One Measure Scoliosis?

To determine how severe your scoliosis is, your provider will measure the curve of your spine in degrees:

  • Less than 10 degrees: No scoliosis diagnosis
  • 10 and 24 degrees: Mild scoliosis
  • 25 to 39 degrees: Moderate scoliosis
  • 40 degrees or higher: Severe scoliosis

Your provider will use a scoliometer to calculate the curve of your spine, similar to how you use a protractor to measure angles. They may also use an X-ray to determine the exact curve of your spine.

What Are the Different Types of Scoliosis?

Four main types of scoliosis can occur:

  1. Idiopathic scoliosis: Idiopathic scoliosis is one of the most common forms of scoliosis and occurs when the spine curves without any definite cause. Idiopathic scoliosis tends to run in families and affects girls more often than boys. Most cases of idiopathic scoliosis are mild and do not require treatment.
  2. Congenital scoliosis: Congenital scoliosis is the least common form and affects 1 in 10,000 people. Individuals may develop congenital scoliosis if their vertebrae do not form normally before birth. Since the spine forms simultaneously with the bladder, kidney and nervous system, individuals may experience issues with these systems in addition to their spinal cord.
  3. Neuromuscular scoliosis: Neuromuscular scoliosis is another common form of scoliosis, and it results from nerve or muscular system disorders like cerebral palsy, spine bifida or spinal cord injuries. Neuromuscular conditions can cause muscles to become weak, spastic or paralyzed and unable to provide full support to the back resulting in the spine becoming curved.
  4. Degenerative scoliosis: Degenerative scoliosis only affects adults and results from aging or conditions that occur with age, like osteoarthritis and osteoporosis

What Causes Scoliosis in Adults?

Some forms of scoliosis have a clear cause, while others do not. Doctors divide the causes of scoliosis into structural and nonstructural causes.

For nonstructural scoliosis, the spine can function normally but has a curved appearance. Nonstructural scoliosis can result from various issues, such as one leg being longer than the other, appendicitis and muscle spasms. If you or your doctor detect these symptoms and start treatment, your scoliosis often clears as well. 

In structural scoliosis, the curve of the spine is rigid due to causes like:

  • Genetic conditions like Marfan syndrome and Down syndrome
  • Cerebral palsy
  • Tumors
  • Muscular dystrophy
  • Infections

Family history and genetics can cause scoliosis as well. If an immediate family member has scoliosis, it’s best to undergo screening as soon as possible to determine if you also have the condition.

When Does Scoliosis Show Up?

Scoliosis is most likely to show up during growth spurts when children are between 10 and 15 years old. You can receive a scoliosis diagnosis anytime from childhood into adulthood. The greater the severity of your spine, the more likely it is to worsen, which makes it essential to detect scoliosis early and begin the proper treatment.

Can You Prevent Scoliosis?

Scoliosis is not preventable despite many rumors, such as childhood sports and carrying a heavy backpack can lead to a curved spine. Poor posture also does not affect scoliosis. However, a curved spine may cause a noticeable lean, and if you cannot stand upright, it is wise to have a doctor examine your spine.  

What Makes Scoliosis Worse?

As with any condition, there is no way to predict precisely how your scoliosis will improve or worsen over time. One of the best ways to ensure your scoliosis doesn’t worsen is by getting treatment and following your doctor’s recommendations.

After your scoliosis diagnosis, your provider may speak with you about how gravity, everyday activities and regular growth spurts can all positively and negatively impact your scoliosis. As you and your doctor learn more about how the curve of your spine affects your body, you will work together to create an action plan that may include specific stretches, exercises or adapting how you perform daily activities. 

How Do I Know If My Scoliosis Is Getting Worse?

One of the most obvious signs your scoliosis is worsening is noticeable changes such as uneven hips and shoulders, prominent ribs and shifting the waist and trunk to the side. If you don’t notice any symptoms, your doctor will check the curve of your spine every five years. Much like your initial diagnosis, your doctor may use a scoliometer or order an X-ray or other imaging tests to see if the curve of your spine has changed.

Find Effective Scoliosis Treatment at Desert Institute for Spine Care

At DISC, we understand scoliosis can affect multiple aspects of your life, so we provide comprehensive treatments. Depending on the severity of your scoliosis, we may offer options like observation, bracing and surgery. Our team of doctors has years of experience providing effective scoliosis treatment, and we look forward to working with you to help you regain your quality of life. To learn more, please schedule an appointment with our team today!


Previous ArticleDr. Salari Featured in Phoenix Magazine as Top Doc 2024 Next ArticleCastle Connolly’s National Top Doctor 2024