Causes of scoliosis 

In most cases, the cause of scoliosis is unknown and it cannot usually be prevented.

It is not thought to be linked with things such as bad posture, exercise or diet.

If the cause of scoliosis is unknown, it is called idiopathic scoliosis. About eight out of every 10 cases of scoliosis are idiopathic.

However, researchers have found there is a family history of the condition in some idiopathic cases, which suggests a possible genetic link.

Idiopathic scoliosis can affect adults and children. Some cases may only become noticable in later life.

Known causes

In a small number of cases, a cause is identified.

Other health conditions

Some cases of scoliosis are caused by conditions that affect the nerves and muscles (neuromuscular conditions), such as:

  • cerebral palsy – a condition that affects the brain and nerves and occurs during or shortly after birth
  • muscular dystrophy – a genetic condition that causes muscle weakness
  • neurofibromatosis – a genetic condition that causes benign tumours to grow along your nerves

Scoliosis can also develop as part of a pattern of symptoms called a syndrome. This is known as syndromic scoliosis. Conditions that can cause syndromic scoliosis include:

  • Marfan syndrome – a disorder of the connective tissues inherited by a child from their parents
  • Rett syndrome – a genetic disorder, usually affecting females, which causes severe physical and mental disability

These conditions are usually diagnosed at a young age and children with them are often monitored for problems such as scoliosis.

Birth defects

In rare cases, babies can be born with scoliosis. This is known as congenital scoliosis. Congenital scoliosis is caused by the bones in the spine developing abnormally in the womb.

Long-term damage

In adults, scoliosis can sometimes be caused by gradual deterioration to the parts of the spine. This is known as degenerative scoliosis.

This can occur because some parts of the spine become narrower and weaker (osteoporosis) with age.

Page last reviewed: 29/01/2015

Next review due: 29/01/2017