Scoliosis - Causes

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What causes scoliosis?

Scoliosis can affect about 2% of females and 0.5% of males. In most cases, the cause of scoliosis is unknown (idiopathic). This type of scoliosis is described based on the age when scoliosis develops. If the person is less than 3 years old, it is called infantile idiopathic scoliosis. Scoliosis that develops between 3 and 10 years of age is called juvenile idiopathic scoliosis, and people that are over 10 years old have adolescent idiopathic scoliosis. More than 80% of people with scoliosis have idiopathic scoliosis, and the majority of those are adolescent girls.

There are three other main types of scoliosis:

  • Functional: In this type of scoliosis, the spine is normal, but an abnormal curve develops because of a problem somewhere else in the body. This could be caused by one leg being shorter than the other or by muscle spasms in the back.
  • Neuromuscular: In this type of scoliosis, there is a problem when the bones of the spine are formed. Either the bones of the spine fail to form completely or they fail to separate from each other during fetal development. This type of scoliosis develops in people with other disorders, including birth defects, muscular dystrophy, cerebral palsy, or Marfan's disease. People with these conditions often develop a long C-shaped curve and have weak muscles that are unable to hold them up straight. If the curve is present at birth, it is called congenital. This type of scoliosis is often much more severe and needs more aggressive treatment than other forms of scoliosis.
  • Degenerative: Unlike the other forms of scoliosis that are found in children and teens, degenerative scoliosis occurs in older adults. It is caused by changes in the spine due to arthritis known as spondylosis. Weakening of the normal ligaments and other soft tissues of the spine combined with abnormal bone spurs can lead to an abnormal curvature of the spine. The spine can also be affected by osteoporosis, vertebral compression fractures, and disc degeneration.
  • Others: There are other potential causes of scoliosis, including spine tumors such as osteoid osteoma. This is a benign tumor that can occur in the spine and cause pain. The pain causes people to lean to the opposite side to reduce the amount of pressure applied to the tumor. This can lead to a spinal deformity.
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Comment from: Michellef, 35-44 Female Published: June 20

I was diagnosed with scoliosis when I was about 5 years old. (It was hereditary.) I wore a brace faithfully every day and night. However, the C curve turned into an S and continued to get worse. I had surgery when I was 12. They inserted what I believe was called a Harrington rod. It begins at the middle of my neck and ends just above my hips. They took pieces of my hip bone to fuse the rod to my spine, and I was able to wear just my brace for six months after surgery. I have not had any major issues since then. I'm very thankful my mother took care of it right away! I don't think I could handle that kind of surgery at my age now.

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Comment from: 45-54 Female (Patient) Published: February 24

In my case, scoliosis is present in my family. I and 2 of my 4 brothers were all diagnosed as children; I was 10, my brothers were 9 or 10 when they were diagnosed. I was the only one who wore a brace, my brothers were monitored. I and in my cousin's family, 3 of 4 girls were diagnosed. All 3 of my cousins wore braces. I am the only one who had a spinal fusion. My paternal grandmother also had a small curve.

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