The cause of scoliosis is not known in the majority of the cases and is classed as idiopathic, with no known methods of prevention. There has been some research into genetic and lifestyle links to the idiopathic form of disease, but strong conclusions have not been made.
Some individuals with scoliosis may have acquired the condition due to the presence of other related neuromuscular health conditions, such as cerebral palsy and muscular dystrophy. Likewise, the cause of the condition may be related to abnormal spinal growth in the womb or degenerative bone diseases in the elderly.
Approximately 7 out of 10 people with scoliosis develop the condition without a known cause, known as idiopathic. There is no clear link between lifestyle factors, such as poor posture, physical activity or nutrition. However, there remains some speculation that poor posture and exercise may play a causative role in the disease.
This type of scoliosis typically presents in the growth spurt shortly before puberty begins, usually between 9 and 15 years old. Boys and girls have approximately the same risk of developing scoliosis, however the risk of severe disease and symptoms that require treatment is higher in females. It is more common in individuals with structural abnormalities of the body, such as one leg longer than the other.
Some research has indicated that individuals with a family history of the condition are more likely to be affected, which suggests a genetic link may be associated as a cause. Medical scientists in Japan identified the gene GPR126 to be involved in the early growth and development of the spine, and defects in this gene may lead to signs of scoliosis. However, there has not been sufficient research to support this theory, and further study is required to support it.
Related Neuromuscular Conditions
For some individuals with scoliosis, there are other related health conditions that are likely to contribute to the pathogenesis of the condition. These conditions include:
- Cerebral palsy: affects brain and nerves at or after birth
- Muscular dystrophy: leads to muscle weakness
- Neurofibromatosis: causes benign tumor growth along nerves
In some cases, scoliosis can present as a symptom of a syndrome, along with other symptoms. This is known as syndromic scoliosis and includes:
- Marfan syndrome: inherited disorder of connective tissues
- Rett syndrome: genetic disorder with physical and mental disability
These syndromes are usually diagnosed in young children, who should then be monitored for signs of scoliosis to enable early intervention if required.
Infants can be born with scoliosis, known as congenital scoliosis. This is a rare type and is generally thought to be caused by abnormal development of the spinal bones in the womb. It is unclear if this occurs as a result of genetic factors or due to positioning in the womb, although the latter seems to be more probable.
Gradual deterioration of particular sections along the spine can sometimes cause scoliosis in adults, known as degenerative scoliosis. This occurs due to narrowing and weakening of the bone in the spine with age, associated with bone conditions such as osteoporosis.