Scoliosis has been around for thousands of years, among people of every culture and country. Yet for all the time we have studied scoliosis, its true causes remain elusive.
Some types of scoliosis have a directly-identifiable cause. Neuromuscular scoliosis, for example, occurs when a disease such as muscular dystrophy or cerebral palsy causes the spine to develop a scoliosis. Congenital scoliosis arises due to a failure of the bones to form properly. Degenerative scoliosis happens in late adulthood due to degeneration of the spinal discs. Traumatic scoliosis can occur as a result of an accident or surgery. All of these types of scoliosis, however, comprise less than 20% of the diagnosed cases. The vast majority of scoliosis cases diagnosed (over 80%) are termed idiopathic.
Idiopathic means, “without known cause.” It doesn’t mean there is no cause – simply that it is not readily apparent.
We know that scoliosis is not directly caused by problems with the genes. It is possible for certain genes to predispose an individual to develop scoliosis, but there is no way to tell just by looking at the genes if a person will develop scoliosis or not. Rather, it appears to be a combination of genetic and environmental factors that influences the development of scoliosis. Even in identical twins, it is possible for one twin to develop scoliosis but the other does not.
The genetic factors involved with scoliosis appear to revolve around the genes responsible for regulating normal development of the bones and ligaments. Scoliosis is often associated with low bone density (osteopenia) and joint hypermobility (ligament laxity).
Environmental aspects that influence scoliosis appear to be ectomorphic body types (tall and slender), loss of the normal thoracic kyphosis (flatback syndrome), and abnormal loading of the bones (Heuter-Volkmann’s Law). One interesting new theory suggests that scoliosis is caused by a sensorimotor re-integration disorder (improper communication between the brain and the muscles responsible for posture, balance, and coordination).
Scoliosis is not caused by muscle tension. Studies have found that tension in the muscles arises as a consequence of scoliosis, after it has progressed to a certain point.
One of the fundamental principles of chiropractic is that, in order to successfully treat a disease, you must address the cause, not the symptom. In other words, when you have a headache, the cause of the headache is not a deficiency of aspirin. Taking aspirin only blocks the pain signals, much like removing the Check Engine light from your dashboard “fixes” the problem with your car.
Scoliosis is a very complex condition, and it is very rare for a complex condition to arise from one obvious cause. In most cases, it is probably a combination of factors, and in each individual case, some factors may be more influential than others.
Keep in mind that not every one of these potential causes might apply in every case. In most cases, scoliosis does not develop due to only one cause, but a combination of causes with varying degrees of influence. Each person must be evaluated on a case-by-case basis to determine which factors are most likely contributing to the development and progression of their scoliosis.
We are trained to analyze the spine in all three dimensions – not just looking at the curves in the spine when viewed from the front, but also the curves when viewed from the side, as well as looking at the rotation from the top-down. Our protocols are designed to rehabilitate and restore the good, healthy curves of the spine. With the good curves in place, the scoliosis can more effectively be reduced. If the scoliosis is straightened without first restoring the good curves, the spine ends up straight and unstable again. Restoring the good curves is a vital step in ensuring that the spine has the strength and flexibility it needs to function properly.