Scoliosis is thought to be genetic and tends to run in families. However, with each generation, there is a variability of how strongly the genes that cause scoliosis are expressed, which determines how severe the spine curve may be. For example, a mother may have a mild curve, but her daughter may have a very severe curve, or a mother may have a severe curve, and her grandchildren may develop scoliosis, but their parents did not.
While the incidence of a scoliosis diagnosis in men and women is approximately the same, the progression rate is seven to eight times more common in females who were diagnosed with scoliosis as an adolescent or young adult than among boys who were diagnosed at the same age.
Most people typically think of scoliosis as a childhood disease. In fact, scoliosis is commonly diagnosed in the juvenile and adolescent stages—ages 9, 10, 11 or 12. There is, however, adult onset or degenerative scoliosis, which develops as a result of disc degeneration and is different from adolescent idiopathic scoliosis.
Spinal cord injuries
Polio was once one of the most common neurological causes of scoliosis. During the polio epidemic in the 1930s through the 1950s, it was very common for children to develop scoliosis. We see many of those patients as adults at the Baylor Scott & White Scoliosis Centers.
Research into the environmental causes of scoliosis is ongoing, and, while there have been some findings, a clear connection has not been established between scoliosis and medications or environmental factors yet.
The vast majority of patients with scoliosis fall under the category of what’s called idiopathic scoliosis. This simply means that we don't know what causes it as opposed to cases that are due to neurological causes, congenital abnormalities, developmental issues or as the result of a traumatic injury to the spinal cord. In some cases, either the vertebrae in the spine are congenitally malformed or congenitally fused together, or the spinal cord developed incorrectly from birth, leading to very severe curves.
Typically, there is an environmental cause for this, such as drug abuse during pregnancy, or complications from medications and other environmental causes, which put children at risk while they are developing during pregnancy.