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What Causes Scoliosis?

When learning about scoliosis, many people wonder, "What causes it?" In most cases, the cause is unknown. Injury, metabolic diseases, and tumors are some of the known causes of this condition. The causes of scoliosis are generally classified into one of two types: nonstructural and structural.

What Causes Scoliosis?

In most people (80-85 percent of cases), the cause of scoliosis is unknown. This type of scoliosis is called idiopathic scoliosis.
Before concluding that a person has idiopathic scoliosis, the doctor will look for other possible causes. The causes of scoliosis are generally classified into one of two types: nonstructural (functional) scoliosis and structural scoliosis.
Different causes are common within each of these different types of scoliosis.

Causes of Nonstructural (Functional) Scoliosis

Nonstructural scoliosis is when the spine is structurally normal, but appears curved because of another cause.
This type of scoliosis is most often caused by an underlying condition, such as:
  • A difference in leg length
  • Muscle spasms
  • Inflammatory conditions, such as appendicitis.
Doctors treat nonstructural scoliosis by correcting the underlying problem.

(Click Scoliosis Treatments for more information about treatment options for scoliosis.)

Causes of Structural Scoliosis

In structural scoliosis, the spine has a fixed curve that is structurally abnormal.
The causes for this type of scoliosis include:
  • Metabolic diseases
  • Neuromuscular diseases (such as cerebral palsy, poliomyelitis, or muscular dystrophy)
  • Birth defects (such as hemivertebra)
  • Connective tissue disorders
  • Injury
  • Certain infections
  • Tumors (such as those caused by neurofibromatosis)
  • Rheumatic diseases
  • Unknown factors (idiopathic scoliosis).
Structural scoliosis can be one part of a syndrome or disease. For example, this is sometimes seen in Marfan's syndrome, which is an inherited connective tissue disorder. In other cases, structural scoliosis occurs by itself.
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