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Why do kids get scoliosis?

Dr. Dennis G. Crandall

Mesa, AZ

No one knows. It can occur from misshaped vertebra (congenital scoliosis), be associated with other neurologic conditions (neuromuscular scoliosis), other genetic disorders, or occur as it most often does, for no clear reason (idiopathic scoliosis).

Dr. Jean-Pierre C. Farcy

New York, NY
M.M.C. Spine Center

The cause of scoliosis is not known. It has been said that scoliosis can be found in families, however there is no proof that it is hereditary.

Dr. Patrick Bosch

Albuquerque, NM

In the vast majority of cases, we do not know the cause. There has been a lot of research into this, but no clear answer.

Dr. Charles E. Johnston, II

Texas Scottish Rite Hospital Orthopedic Group

The cause is unknown in most cases.

Dr. Baron S. Lonner

New York, NY

There are numerous causes of scoliosis. Again, the most common type is idiopathic which implies that we do not know its underlying cause. There is a genetic basis for idiopathic scoliosis in many or most cases. Children are at risk for progression of their curvature due to growth, which drives the curve to increase in its size. Very young children who present with scoliosis are at risk for development of severe curves, which may cause impairment of lung development, and restrictive lung disease. Congenital scoliosis is another form of scoliosis that occurs as a result of abnormal development of the spine in-utero (prior to birth).

Dr. W. Christopher Urban

Glen Burnie, MD

The exact cause of scoliosis is still unknown. There has been substantial research into the causes of scoliosis, including genetic factors, tissue growth abnormalities, vertebral disorders, and central nervous system problems.

Dr. Frank J. Schwab

New York, NY

There are many different types of scoliosis. The most common type in children and adolescents is called idiopathic scoliosis. Nobody really knows why this type of scoliosis occurs. Genetics play some role because scoliosis is more common in some families. Hormones most likely also have an effect on the onset and development of scoliosis. For some types of scoliosis we know that muscle imbalance or neurologic disorders play a role.

Dr. John T. Smith

University of Utah Department of Orthopaedic Surgery

There is not an easy answer to this question, however, it is well known that scoliosis is a problem that occurs during growth. There are a number of different causes of abnormal bone growth that can cause scoliosis (and other problems with the skeleton), some of which are well understood by doctors, and some of which are still a mystery. The most common type of scoliosis occurs during the growth spurt of teenagers. We have no real explanation for why this occurs, but many doctors and scientists have been working on an explanation. Once you are done growing (about 14 for girls and 16 for boys) it is very unlikely that you will develop a scoliosis.

Dr. Robert S. Pashman

Los Angeles, CA

To answer this question, it must be understood that scoliosis falls into two major categories: idiopathic and non-idiopathic scoliosis. Idiopathic is the more common type of scoliosis and the one that is commonly identified at the beginning of accelerated growth in adolescence. Unfortunately, at this time, a single identifiable cause for what leads to curvature of the spine in idiopathic scoliosis has not been discovered.

Dr. James Mooney, III

Detroit, MI

At this time, we do not know exactly why patients develop idiopathic scoliosis. There is a significant amount of research being done at this time to attempt to answer that question.

Dr. John P. Lubicky

Chicago, IL
Shriner's Hospital for Children

There are different kinds of scoliosis. The most common kind is called idiopathic, and that word idiopathic means that we don't know the cause. There probably is some kind of nervous system abnormality that starts it off, and it probably has something to do with balance and how one's body reacts to changes of position of the body in space, but this theory has not been worked out completely. There may be some other hormonal abnormalities that also are involved with the development of idiopathic scoliosis. However, there are other forms that have other causes, for example, congenital scoliosis is caused by actual abnormalities of the vertebrae which cause them to grow differently one side to the other. Persons who have nervous system diseases that result in weakness of the muscles of the trunk can also develop scoliosis because they just don't have the muscle strength to maintain their body in the proper position.

Dr. Scott J. Luhmann

St. Louis, MO

The cause of scoliosis is unknown. Some researchers have found an association between scoliosis and a very subtle form of neurological abnormality, which has no outward manifestations besides the scoliosis. Currently, research is ongoing to identify a specific gene responsible for scoliosis.

Dr. David W. Polly, Jr.

Minneapolis, MN

Scoliosis seems to be a genetic condition. Real soon we hope to have the gene identified that causes scoliosis, but we don't have it yet.

Dr. Christopher L. Hamill

Buffalo General HospitalBuffalo General Hospital

We are unsure at this time.

Dr. Robert W. Molinari

Rochester, NY

The exact cause of scoliosis remains unknown; however, many medical researchers believe there is some form of genetic predisposition to the condition.

Dr. Stephen Ondra

Chicago, IL

There are a variety of reasons that children can get scoliosis. The most common is an inherited disorder that causes deformity of the spine. The exact cause of the disease is still unclear, but the result is a curvature and rotation of the spine. Other children are born with abnormalities of formation or segmentation of the spinal elements. This is called congenital scoliosis. By part of one or more vertebrae being abnormally formed, the spine begins to take an abnormal curvature. Other children will have scoliosis due to a variety of neurologic or muscular diseases. Regardless of the cause, the result is a deformity of the spine. This deformity can cause subsequent deformity in the ribs, internal organ, and a change in body shape.

The commentary above recounts the experiences of these physicians. Medtronic invited them to share their stories candidly. Keep in mind that results vary; not every patient's response is the same. Talk with your doctor to learn more about any products that are mentioned above.

It is important that you discuss the potential risks, complications and benefits of spinal surgery with your doctor prior to receiving treatment, and that you rely on your doctor's judgment. Only your doctor can determine whether you are a suitable candidate for this treatment.

  • Published: June 20, 2002
  • Updated: April 19, 2010