7 Types of Scoliosis & Their Differences

Last updated on October 21st, 2021 at 08:29 am

According to health experts, scoliosis affects between 2% and 3% of the American population. That is about 6-9 million people! Scoliosis is an abnormal lateral curvature of the spine and there are many different forms. Scoliosis’s cause and the patient’s age are the most common way of categorizing the condition.

All kinds of scoliosis involve some degree of spinal bending, some are worse than others. Newer research in scoliosis genetic testing has revealed new insights into the possible cause of the condition.

Genetic testing may help us better determine which type of scoliosis is which, more accurately in the future.

Clayton J. Stitzel DC,


What Sets the Different Types of Scoliosis Apart?

There are many ways to determine the differences between the various forms of scoliosis.  The most common method uses etiology or the underlying cause for the condition. Most experts feel there are three categories of scoliosis.  idiopathic, congenital, and neuromuscular.

Idiopathic is the most common type of scoliosis. This means that the cause is unknown or that there is no single factor that contributes to the development of the disease. Get recommendations for treating idiopathic scoliosis directly to your email.

Congenital forms of scoliosis result from a spinal defect present at birth. This is usually detected at a much earlier age than idiopathic forms of scoliosis.

Neuromuscular scoliosis is spinal curvature that develops because of some kind of other diseases.  Examples include muscular dystrophy or cerebral palsy. This form of scoliosis tends to progress much more quickly than others.

Knowing how spinal curvatures are classified is important. It may provide a foundation of knowledge on how to treat a specific type of scoliosis.

Below are eight types of scoliosis in greater detail:

Congenital Scoliosis

Congenital scoliosis is rare, affecting only 1 in 10,000 newborns. It results from spinal abnormalities that develop in the womb. Before birth, malformation of the spine is the most common cause of this type of scoliosis. It may also result from the partial formation of certain bones or the absence of one or more bones in the spine. Congenital scoliosis leads to a sideways curvature of the spine.   It can cause the child to develop extra curves in the opposite direction.  This may be the body’s attempt to compensate for the abnormality.

Congenital scoliosis relates to spinal defects present at birth.  it is diagnosed much earlier than other forms of the disease. Symptoms of congenital scoliosis include

  • tilted shoulders,
  • an uneven waistline,
  • the prominence of the ribs on one side,
  • head tilt,
  • the appearance of the body leaning to one side.
  • When symptoms develop, diagnostic tests such as EOS imaging, x-rays, MRIs, and CT scans confirm the diagnosis.

Early Onset Scoliosis

One of the most common age ranges at which scoliosis develops in young children. Hence, the name juvenile scoliosis. When scoliosis is present before the age of 9, but, doctors refer to it as early-onset scoliosis. It is important to differentiate between adolescent and early onset scoliosis. Genetic origins between the 2 categories may be different.

Often, children with early-onset scoliosis do not show any signs of spinal problems.  Especially if they have mild scoliosis. Detection of early-onset scoliosis is important.  Pay attention to the symmetry of the affected child’s body. Uneven shoulders, the asymmetric contour of the waist, uneven hips, tilted head, and leaning can all be signs of scoliosis. Early treatment for this form of scoliosis is important because the child is still developing. Delayed treatment can contribute to lung and heart problems called Cor Pulmonale.

Adolescent Idiopathic Scoliosis (AIS)

This is the most common form of scoliosis. Adolescent idiopathic scoliosis affects as many as 4 out of 100 children between the ages of 10 and 18. The name for this condition comes from the age of onset (adolescence).  Genetic research is beginning to pinpoint the possible causes of idiopathic scoliosis.

By the age of 10, spinal growth has begun to speed up.  This increases the likelihood of rapid curve worsening during growth spurts.

Adolescent Idiopathic is the most common form of the scoliosis condition

There are many theories about the possible causes of adolescent idiopathic scoliosis.  These include hormonal imbalances causing asymmetric growth. About 30% of all adolescent idiopathic scoliosis patients have a family history of scoliosis.  This suggests a genetic link. In most cases, adolescent idiopathic scoliosis patients do not experience any pain or other problems.  They may even look normal when viewed from the side. When symptoms do develop, they take the form of uneven shoulders, a rib hump, or a leaning torso. This form of scoliosis is also sometimes correlated with lower back pain.

ScoliSMART doctors recommend  “reflexive retraining” through Early Stage Scoliosis Intervention (ESSI)as soon as a curve is detected.  Early treatment almost always improves treatment results.

Degenerative Scoliosis (De Novo Scoliosis)

Also known as adult onset scoliosis, late onset scoliosis, or de novo scoliosis. Degenerative scoliosis is characterized by a sideways curvature of the spine that develops over time as an adult. One of the natural consequences of aging is degeneration of the joints and discs in the spine. Uneven “wear and tear” of these discs and joints can cause spinal curvature to become more pronounced on one side. A hallmark of scoliosis.

Degenerative scoliosis is often linked to loss of bone health.

Degenerative scoliosis most develops in the lumbar spine, or the lower back, and it forms a slight C-shape. When the degree of sideways curvature exceeds 10 degrees (as measured by the Cobb angle), it is diagnosed as scoliosis.

Although many forms of scoliosis are not painful, degenerative scoliosis certainly can be painful. Common symptoms include:

  • a dull ache or stiffness in the lower back,
  • a radiating pain that spreads to the legs,
  • a tingling sensation that runs down the leg,
  • or sharp pain in the leg that occurs while walking but subsides during periods of rest.

A recent study suggests that more than 60% of the population over the age of 60 has some degenerative scoliosis.

  • De novo scoliosis is caused by age-related degeneration of the spine.  It occurs in adult patients who have no prior history of scoliosis. It is diagnosed in people over the age of 50 through physical examination and x-rays. Patients with de novo scoliosis often experience:
  • muscle fatigue and lower back pain,
  • stiffness and leg symptoms such as numbness or weakness.
  • Over time, patients often develop poor posture and loss of balance.  Treatment is tricky because of the risks associated with back surgery in older individuals.

Neuromuscular Scoliosis

Neuromuscular scoliosis develops secondary, because of another condition. Spinal curvature occurs when the brain and muscles are unable to communicate well.  This curvature is likely to progress into adulthood and may become more severe in patients who are unable to walk. Patients who are confined to wheelchairs may have trouble sitting upright and may have a tendency to slump to one side.

Some of the underlying conditions known to contribute to neuromuscular scoliosis include:

  • myelodysplasia,
  • cerebral palsy,
  • Duchenne muscular dystrophy
  • Freidrich ataxia
  • and spinal muscular atrophy

Neuromuscular scoliosis is often not painful unless the spinal curvature becomes very pronounced. Often the first sign of scoliosis is a change in posture. Either leaning forward or leaning to one side while standing or sitting. Clinical exam and full spinal x-rays, which usually show a long, C-shaped curvature that affects the entirety of the spine.

Knowing how spinal curvature disorders are classified provides a foundation of knowledge on which to build an understanding of the specific types of scoliosis.

Scheuermann’s Kyphosis

Whereas scoliosis is defined as an abnormal curvature of the spine when viewed from the front, kyphosis is a forward rounding of the spine. Scoliosis most affects the lower spine or lumbar spine.  Kyphosis usually affects the cervical spine and thoracic spine. Scheuermann’s kyphosis is one of three types of kyphosis and it is diagnosed during adolescence. It develops secondary to some structural deformity in the vertebrae.  Early symptoms include:

  • poor posture,
  • back pain,
  • muscle fatigue,
  • and stiffness in the back.
  • In most cases, these symptoms remain fairly consistent and they generally do not worsen over time except in severe cases.

Treatment Solutions for All Ages

Scoliosis comes in many forms, each with its own set of diagnostic criteria and specific age of onset. Because scoliosis is such a variable condition. It can be difficult to make an exact diagnosis and that can lead to difficulty determining the best course of treatment.

Don’t know where to start?  Take our FREE “ScoliQuiz.”  (No x-ray required)

ScoliSMART Clinics is committed to treating the WHOLE scoliosis condition, not only the curve. Genetic & clinical testing with targeted nutrient therapies, expert in-office treatment programs, and the world’s only ScoliSMART Activity Suit provides patients of all ages with the most comprehensive, most effective, and least invasive treatment options available worldwide.


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