A graphic showing a person's spine.

Scoliosis and Genetics: What’s the Connection?

Is Scoliosis Genetic?

Scoliosis refers to an abnormal curvature of the spine that can be caused by conditions such as cerebral palsy and muscular dystrophy. You might wonder, is scoliosis genetic? In most cases, the cause of scoliosis is unknown. About 3% of adolescents have scoliosis. Most cases of scoliosis are mild, but some spine deformities can get worse as children grow. Severe scoliosis can be disabling.

Spotting the Signs of Scoliosis

In more severe cases, scoliosis can lead to a rotation or twisting of the spine. When this occurs, the ribs on one side of the body stick out farther than on the other side. Relative to this, the signs and symptoms of scoliosis may include:

  • Uneven shoulders
  • Uneven waist
  • Prominent shoulder blade (on one side only)
  • One hip higher than the other

How to Get a Diagnosis

Scoliosis is usually diagnosed through a physical examination, an x-ray, spinal radiograph, CT scan or MRI.

The Cobb Method is used to measure and diagnose spinal curves. A diagnosis of scoliosis based on a coronal curvature measurement. The diagnosis is positive if the posterior-anterior radiograph is greater than 10 degrees. When greater than 25 to 30 degrees, a curve is considered significant; curves exceeding 45 to 50 degrees are considered severe and often require very serious treatment.

Other diagnosis methods include:

  • X-ray: This involves the use of radiation to show the structure of the vertebrae and it outlines the joints. An x-ray can also help determine other causes of pain, such as a fracture or infection.
  • Computed tomography scan (CT or CAT scan): This is a diagnostic image created after a computer reads x-rays showing the shape and size of the spinal canal, its contents, and the structures around it.
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI): This diagnostic test produces three-dimensional images of body using powerful magnets and computer technology. This helps to reveal abnormalities in the spinal cord, nerve roots, and related areas.

How Do People Develop Scoliosis?

The exact cause of scoliosis is unknown, although it is said it might involve hereditary factors. The following are some other causes of scoliosis:

  • Cerebral palsy
  • Muscular dystrophy
  • Birth defects (some prevent the bones of the spine from developing)
  • Injuries to or infections of the spine

The condition can also be associated with certain risk factors, such as:

  • Age: As children grow, they will experience symptoms that fully grown adults would not.
  • Sex: Females are said to have a much higher risk of the curve worsening.
  • Family history: Scoliosis is said to run in families, however most children with scoliosis do not have a family history of the disease.

Treatment Options

A number of treatment options are available for the treatment of scoliosis. In severe cases and if a person’s skeleton is still maturing, a doctor may recommend surgery. The following are the most effective treatment options for scoliosis:


A plaster cast is usually used for kids instead of bracing to help the child’s spine grow into a typical position. Infants will always wear casts until it is no longer needed. Because infants and children grow rapidly, the doctor will change the cast regularly.


A brace is often recommended in cases where a person has moderate scoliosis and the bones are still growing. The brace is only meant to prevent further curvature, but it will not cure or reverse scoliosis.

If you are using a brace, you will usually need to always wear the brace, even at night. The effectiveness of using the brace correlates with the number of hours per day you wear it. Braces are more effective while the bones are still growing, but are no longer needed when the bones stop growing.

Chiropractic Treatment

This treatment involves realigning and manipulating the spine to promote healing and well-being. While chiropractic treatment may result in some improvement, it is not a permanent cure, as it does not resolve the curvature of the spine. However, take note that receiving chiropractic treatment from a non-specialist can make symptoms worse.


There are a number of exercises you can engage in that may help with scoliosis. These exercises all aim to realign the spine, rib cage, shoulders, and pelvis to achieve a healthy posture.


When scoliosis progresses over time, a doctor may recommend spinal fusion. The bone-healing process in surgery may require the use of metal rods, hooks, screws, or wires to hold a part of the spine straight. A surgeon may also use bone grafts to help the bone heal.

Is It Genetic?

Studies show that 80% of scoliosis cases have no known cause, which is why it is referred to as idiopathic.

However, scoliosis has been linked to a number of factors and some people believe the condition is possibly genetic. The inheritance pattern of scoliosis is not clear because many genetic and environmental factors appear to be involved. However, research shows that having a close relative (such as a parent or sibling) with adolescent idiopathic scoliosis may increase a child's risk of developing the condition.

Experts suggest that scoliosis is not hereditary, as there is no single known gene responsible for the condition. Although there is a familial connection, a genetic predisposition may or may not exist within a family, as family members share much more than just their genes.

Experts also claim that environmental factors can influence the development of scoliosis. Families tend to live in the same geographic areas and tend to share diet, lifestyle, and even posture habits. Because family members have so much in common, it is easy to see why people would assume there is a genetic link when scoliosis develops. The fact is that a lot of factors contribute to the condition and it cannot be blamed on genetics alone.

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