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

Dr. Clayton J Stitzel
Factually accurate & verified by
Dr. Clayton J. Stitzel
Last updated on
June 8, 2020

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

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, scientists must look beyond the curved spine for the underlying causes of scoliosis. In fact, an increasing number of research studies indicate idiopathic scoliosis is likely a combination of functional genomic variant groups (28 to be exact), which decrease the performance of specific genetic combinations that make key proteins, enzymes, neurotransmitters, and hormones. Without normal production, the levels of each fall into a pattern that alters your brain's "postural memory" during periods for rapid adolescent growth spurts. Simply put, kids with adolescent idiopathic scoliosis can't genetically keep up with the pace of growth, leading 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, and 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 condition's cause, risk of getting worse, determining the best course of treatment, and even having to contemplate the possibility of scoliosis surgery. 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 a genetic variant pattern that leads to miscommunication between the brain and muscles when kids grow rapidly. The spinal curve is the most obvious and primary symptom, but not the whole scoliosis condition.

The postural control centers (which controls spinal alignment) are in the area of the brain that controls many other automatic body functions like breathing, heart rate, and digestion. Spinal alignment is not voluntarily controlled. Spinal posture is an automatic neurological orientation to gravity that most of us take for granted. This is accomplished largely 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 possibly environmental influences, are creating a faulty postural memory and thus incorrect spinal alignment (scoliosis). The spinal muscles aren't weak, which is a common misconception; they just aren't getting the right messages.

Genetic Scoliosis Causes

Additional Factors Lead to Curve Progression

Weak muscles don't lead to scoliosis curve progression. Curve progression appears to be largely dependent on genes and environmental influences ranging from nutritional deficiencies to specific athletic activities. These nutritional deficiencies can be further magnified by "leaky gut syndrome," chronic poor diet, and food sensitivities to lactose or gluten.

Your child may be genetically predisposed to severe scoliosis (curves that progress to over 50 degrees) or may have a mild case of scoliosis that is not likely to advance. In fact, 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 reducing the effects of the genetic variants, resetting the posture memory (rebalancing neurotransmitter levels), and retraining the postural memory to learn how to untwist the spine automatically with a "reflexive response" active rehabilitation program.

What are Scoliosis Causes in Children?

Idiopathic scoliosis in children is primarily a neuro-hormonal condition, rooted in genetic predisposition, that causes the development of a spinal curvature as the primary symptom. For far too long, adolescent idiopathic scoliosis has been solely viewed as just a "curvature of the spine." Various patterns of functional genetic variant groups collaborate to create specific nutritional deficiencies, leading 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.

Genetics is one of the main scoliosis causes

Ideally, children would be "genetically screened for scoliosis" with a simple at-home saliva collection test to determine their risk for developing scoliosis. Since neurotransmitter patterns have been linked 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.

Need more information about the ScoliSMART Approach?

How Do You Get or Develop Scoliosis?

"Scoliosis" is a fairly broad term covering many different types of scoliosis that can affect just one side or just the lumbar spine (lower back) depending on the case. How one gets or develops any given type of scoliosis is largely do to the cause of the scoliosis (congenital scoliosis, muscular dystrophy, spinal cord pathology, etc.); however, over 80% of all scoliosis cases are termed "idiopathic" (i.e. of unknown cause), leading 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 is the 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 entirely.

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.

Understanding the various factors that contribute to the scoliosis condition is like hitting a moving target. 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, however, the better equipped we become to effectively 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, and first-degree relatives of scoliosis patients have an 11 percent chance of developing it themselves.

29% of the daughters and only 9% of sons of a parent with scoliosis are likely to develop the condition, suggesting specific genomic variant groups (e.g. COMT variants) involving estrogen may be heavily involved with the production, metabolism, and breakdown of estrogen. This may lead to "estrogen signaling dysfunction" and discoordination of hormone levels 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. "A number of population studies have documented that scoliosis runs within families and that 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 necessarily 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 in many cases 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 the condition is genetic as well as hereditary. In fact, only recently the doctors at ScoliSMART have discovered 28 genomic functional variant groups directly associated with idiopathic scoliosis. This information could be vital to predicting the onset of idiopathic scoliosis and the likelihood of severe progression, and even possibly prevent the condition with highly 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, while others play a role in determining the severity of spinal curvature and whether the curve is stable or progressive. Although 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 scoliosis causes 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 been able to piece together a number of observations and findings about adolescent idiopathic scoliosis; thus far, however, those findings have defied any unified theory to explain 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 (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 — without surgery.

Research showing postural memory imbalance's effect on scoliosis development and progression is recent, but not entirely new. Yet, treating the cause of scoliosis instead of its crooked spine symptom is still somewhat a new concept for many doctors and patients alike. It is difficult for some medical practitioners (providing medical advice) to accept that a less expensive, non-invasive treatment corrects scoliosis. Unfortunately, change and progress are often hard and slow to catch on.

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 permanently and 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, in addition to the spine curve.

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Meet the ScoliSMART Doctors

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Dr. Clayton J Stitzel

Dr. Clayton J. Stitzel

Dr. Mark Morningstar

Dr. Mark Morningstar

Dr. Brian T Dovorany

Dr. Brian T. Dovorany

Dr. Aatif Siddiqui

Dr. Aatif Siddiqui