Scoliosis Causes:
Is it Hereditary, Genetic, or Environmental?

Dr. Clayton J Stitzel
Factually accurate & verified by
Dr. Clayton J. Stitzel
Last updated on
November 3 , 2021

An In-Depth Look into Scoliosis Causes

A sideways-curving spine is the most troubling aspect of scoliosis, but it is not the cause of scoliosis. To figure out what causes scoliosis, doctors must look beyond the curved spine for the underlying causes of scoliosis. An increasing number of research studies show idiopathic scoliosis is likely a combination of genetic defects (28 to be exact). These defects decrease genetic performance. 

These genes make key proteins, enzymes, neurotransmitters, and hormones. As a result, patients develop an abnormal "postural memory" during rapid adolescent growth spurts. Kids with adolescent idiopathic scoliosis can't genetically keep up with the pace of growth. This leads to discoordination of spinal alignment. 

Most cases of scoliosis are idiopathic - which means of unknown cause. There are other forms and development of scoliosis, as well.

  • Muscular Dystrophy
  • Cerebral Palsy
  • Congenital Scoliosis
  • Degenerative Scoliosis
  • Even a tethered spinal cord may all lead to scoliosis. Medical advice may be necessary to help you determine what type of scoliosis you or your child may have.

The diagnosis of adolescent idiopathic scoliosis often causes fear, stress, and anxiety because of the uncertainty surrounding:

  • the cause
  • the risk of getting worse
  • determining the best course of treatment
  • and even having to contemplate the possibility of scoliosis surgery.

"The spinal curve is the most obvious and primary symptom, but not the whole scoliosis condition."

- Clayton J. Stitzel DC
CEO, ScoliSMART

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The very term "idiopathic scoliosis" implies we don't understand why scoliosis develops.  But we have learned a great deal about it and, most recently, that it is the result of genetic variant patterns. These patterns lead to miscommunication between the brain and muscles when kids grow fast. Thus, the spinal curve is the most obvious and primary symptom, but not the whole scoliosis condition. Get recommendations on how genetic testing is making early stage scoliosis intervention possible sent to your email

The postural control centers in the brain controls spinal alignment.  Spinal alignment is not voluntarily controlled. Spinal posture is an automatic adaptation to gravity that most of us take for granted. This is accomplished by developing a "postural memory" that is stored in the brain via neurotransmitter patterns. 

If you or your child has scoliosis, these genetic variants, and other influences, are creating a faulty postural memory.  This leads to incorrect spinal alignment (scoliosis). The spinal muscles aren't weak, which is a common misconception, they aren't getting the right messages.

Genetic Scoliosis Causes

More Factors Lead to Curve Progression

Weak muscles don't lead to scoliosis curve progression. Curve progression appears to be dependent on genes and environmental factors. These range from nutritional deficiencies to specific physical activities. These nutritional deficiencies can be further magnified by:

  • "leaky gut syndrome"
  • chronic poor diet
  • food sensitivities to lactose or gluten

Your child may have the genetic combination for severe scoliosis (curves that progress to over 50 degrees).  Or they may have a mild case of scoliosis that is not likely to advance. A recently published genetic study on scoliosis found patients with 14 or more of the 28 genomic variant functional groups were 33% more likely to develop severe scoliosis. 

As scoliosis progresses, it twists and bends the spine around its own axis. This increased torque forces more twisting and bending. Imagine what a rubber band looks like when you twist it and it kinks in the middle. We have to stop this torque to stop the spinal deformity because it is a self-feeding loop. All scoliosis treatment efforts should focus on:

How Do You Get or Develop Scoliosis?

What are Scoliosis Causes in Children?

Idiopathic scoliosis in children is a neuro-hormonal condition, rooted in genetic predisposition.  It causes the development of a spinal curvature as the primary symptom. For far too long, adolescent idiopathic scoliosis has been viewed as only a "curvature of the spine." Various patterns of functional genetic variant groups collaborate to create specific nutritional deficiencies.  This leads to lower neurotransmitter, enzyme, and hormone production. These deficiencies manifest themselves as scoliosis when the body is unable to produce enough of each during times of growth spurts. 

Children should be "genetically screened for scoliosis" with a simple at-home saliva collection test to determine their risk for developing scoliosis. Neurotransmitter patterns correlate to severe curve progression. Children who are genetically "at risk" for scoliosis should also follow up with an at-home urine collection neurotransmitter test. This would help determine which children are at most risk for severe curve progression and surgery in the future.

How Do You Get or Develop Scoliosis?

"Scoliosis" is a broad term covering many different types of scoliosis that can affect one side or the lumbar spine (lower back) depending on the case. How one gets or develops any given type of scoliosis is due to the cause of the scoliosis:

  • Congenital scoliosis, muscular dystrophy, spinal cord pathology, are all secondary to another condition.
  • But, over 80% of all scoliosis cases are "idiopathic" (i.e. of unknown cause). This leads to questions about environmental, genetic, and hereditary causes.

Is Scoliosis Environmental?

 When studying the development of scoliosis, hereditary factors can provide a lot of insight.  But they also raise as many questions as they answer. 

For example, if scoliosis is hereditary, why does it also crop up in children with no family history of the condition? Another oddity researchers have noted.  The scoliosis condition seems to have variable effects within each generation. A mother with a mild curve might have a daughter with a severe one, or the scoliosis might skip a generation. 

But identifying what those factors are is tricky. Studies have ruled out the theory that the curves are caused by specific behaviors such as slouching or carrying a heavy backpack. They have also found no link between scoliosis and living in an industrialized area

Fact: Various factors contribute to the scoliosis condition. It is not a fixed deformity, but a dynamic process that appears to spring from a combination of different factors. The more we study it, the better equipped we become able to treat the condition.


Are There Genetic Scoliosis Causes?

Strong evidence suggests that scoliosis runs in families. Nearly a third of patients with adolescent idiopathic scoliosis have a family history of the condition.  First-degree relatives of scoliosis patients have an 11 percent chance of developing it. 

29% of the daughters and only 9% of the sons of a parent with scoliosis are likely to develop the condition.  This suggests specific genomic variant groups involving estrogen may be involved. This will interfere with the production, metabolism, and breakdown of estrogen. This may lead to "Progesterone to Estrogen imbalance". This is bad news as the patient enters into pre-teen growth spurts leading up to the onset of menstruation. 

"It is possible that genetic factors may be involved in specific aspects of scoliosis, including the shape of a scoliosis curve and the risk for curve progression," said scoliosis specialist Christopher R. Good, M.D., in the Journal of the Spinal Research Foundation. 

"Many studies have documented that scoliosis runs within families. There is a higher prevalence of scoliosis among relatives of patients with scoliosis than within the general population." 

The numbers support the theory that scoliosis is hereditary, or passed down from family members. But does that mean it is genetic? 

To answer that question, it is important to understand the difference between genetic and hereditary. Most people use them synonymously, and sometimes they are, but there are subtle differences. A trait can be hereditary without being genetic. Cultural characteristics, for example, are passed down through families but are not connected to genes, and genetic traits are not always hereditary. Consider cancer, which arises from mutant genes but in most cases is not inherited from one's parents.

Is Scoliosis Hereditary?

By examining the inheritance patterns of scoliosis, scientists have concluded scoliosis is both genetic and hereditary. Only recently the doctors at ScoliSMART have discovered the 28 genomic functional variant groups associated with idiopathic scoliosis. This information could be vital to predicting:

  • the onset of idiopathic scoliosis 
  • the likelihood of severe progression
  • and even possibly prevent the condition with targeted nutrient therapies 

"Researchers suspect that many genes are involved in adolescent idiopathic scoliosis," says the National Institute of Health. "Some of these genes likely contribute to causing the disorder. Others play a role in determining the severity of spinal curvature and whether the curve is stable or progressive. Many genes have been studied, few clear and consistent genetic associations with adolescent idiopathic scoliosis have been identified."

Are You Born with Scoliosis?

In about 20 percent of cases, the causes of scoliosis are obvious. Birth defects, bone damage, and neuromuscular disorders can all cause spinal curves to form, but they are a small minority. More than 8 in 10 scoliosis cases are idiopathic, which means they have no known cause. 

Through decades of research, scientists have discovered many facts about adolescent idiopathic scoliosis. But, those findings haven't explained why one child's curve progresses rapidly while another child's curve requires no medical attention at all. 

"Adolescent idiopathic scoliosis probably results from a combination of genetic and environmental factors," says the National Institute of Health. "Studies suggest that the abnormal spinal curvature may be related:

  • to hormonal problems,
  • abnormal bone or muscle growth,
  • nervous system abnormalities,
  • or other factors that have not been identified."

Reflexive Retraining Resets Your Postural Memory!

The good news is that specialized "reflexive retraining exercises" can halt scoliosis progression.  (This is true whether the patient is young or older). Coupled with nutritional supplements to correct imbalances, this is the closest you can get to a cure. ScoliSMART reflexive training uses balance, weights, exercises, and patented equipment to reset your postural memory so your brain will learn how to hold your spine straighter (automatically) over time. Our program uses spine and torso exercises to retrain the brain and increase core strength/stability. The program reduces the rigidity of the patient's spine and reduces the curvature of the spine. All without surgery. 

Research showing postural memory imbalance's effect on scoliosis development and progression is recent. But not brand new. Yet, treating the cause of scoliosis instead of its crooked spine symptom is still a somewhat new concept.  For many doctors and patients alike. Unfortunately, change and progress are often hard and slow to catch on.

"Often, it is difficult for some medical practitioners to accept that a less expensive, non-invasive treatment improves scoliosis."

- Clayton Stitzel DC
CEO, ScoliSMART

Non-Invasive Treatment Options for You or Your Child

Doctors have used scoliosis braces for over 450 years and surgery for over 150 years. Neither treatment stops scoliosis progression long-term.  Both cause back pain and serious complications. Bracing can make the spine straighter while your child wears it, but it weakens the muscles so much that curves quickly worsen when the treatment ends. People who have scoliosis surgery are often disabled within two decades. 

You have treatment options other than bracing and surgery. Whether your child's scoliosis was just discovered or you have already tried outdated treatments. ScoliSMART doctors understand the cause of scoliosis progression and we know how to help you treat the whole scoliosis condition, AND the spine curve.

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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Meet the ScoliSMART Doctors

Click the images below to get more information about the ScoliSMART Doctors.

Dr. Clayton J Stitzel

Dr. Clayton J. Stitzel

504 W. Orange Street
Lititz, PA 17543
Dr. Mark Morningstar

Dr. Mark Morningstar

8293 Office Park Drive
Grand Blanc, MI 48439
Dr. Brian T Dovorany

Dr. Brian T. Dovorany

26940 Aliso Viejo Parkway, Suite 105
Aliso Viejo, CA 92656
Dr. Aatif Siddiqui

Dr. Aatif Siddiqui

2 W 45th Street, Suite 404
New York, NY 10036