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What is Idiopathic Scoliosis?

what is idiopathic scoliosis

Idiopathic scoliosis accounts for 80 percent of known diagnosed scoliosis cases. Quite simply, ‘idiopathic’ means no known single cause. Therefore, idiopathic scoliosis refers to cases where the condition has no single known cause.

Diagnosing an Idiopathic Condition

Diagnosing patients with an idiopathic condition is difficult. When people receive news that they or a loved one has scoliosis, they naturally want answers. They want to understand how and why they developed the condition.

Understanding gives people feelings of control, something patients feel they lose when they are diagnosed with an incurable progressive condition. It’s tough to shake my head and say, “There is no known single cause for the type of scoliosis you have.” That, coupled with the fact that there’s no known cure, makes an idiopathic scoliosis diagnosis particularly hard to deliver.

While idiopathic scoliosis makes up a staggering 80 percent of diagnosed cases, there are some known causes that account for the remaining 20 percent.

Different Types of Scoliosis with Known Causes

There is still a lot of mystery surrounding scoliosis, its causes, and treatment options. Although the vast majority of scoliosis cases have no known single cause, there are some types of the condition that experts have attributed causes to:

Neuromuscular Scoliosis

Neuromuscular scoliosis is caused by diseases like muscular dystrophy or cerebral palsy. When these types of diseases affect the spine, it can lead to an abnormal spinal curvature known as neuromuscular scoliosis.

Congenital Scoliosis

Congenital scoliosis is caused by an inability of the bones to form properly, and this leads to an abnormal spinal curvature.

What is Idiopathic Scoliosis?

Traumatic Scoliosis

Traumatic scoliosis is caused by a severe trauma to the body. Surgeries, accidents, or other types of body traumas that affect the spine adversely can lead to an abnormal spinal curvature and the development of traumatic scoliosis.

Degenerative Scoliosis

Degenerative scoliosis is most common in older people. This occurs when an abnormal spinal curvature develops due to a degeneration of the spinal discs.

Understanding Idiopathic Scoliosis

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There is still a big debate going on regarding where scoliosis comes from and why people develop it. People have asked if it’s hereditary or if taking part in certain physical activities make one person more likely to develop it than another. Environmental factors have even been explored in an attempt to better understand the causation of the condition.

The following are some interesting facts about scoliosis causes that help explain why the condition is virtually impossible to tie to one known cause.

Only 20 Percent of Scoliosis Cases are Non-Idiopathic

As already discussed, 80 percent of known scoliosis cases can’t be connected to a single known cause. Other than cases of neuromuscular scoliosis, congenital scoliosis, traumatic scoliosis, and degenerative scoliosis, most of my patients have to accept that their scoliosis diagnosis does not come with any concrete explanation as to why they developed the condition.

It’s also important to note that ‘idiopathic’ doesn’t mean an absence of a cause; it simply means that the cause is not clear or definite. An idiopathic designation can also mean that a condition has a multifactorial causation, meaning the condition could be caused by a combination of multiple factors.

Most Cases of Idiopathic Scoliosis are Caused by Multifactorial Causation

Scoliosis is a complex condition that we are still learning about today. Its causes are most often understood as multifactorial and differ from case to case. Different factors that can play a role in idiopathic scoliosis include genetic, environmental, diet, hormone, and neurotransmitter levels.

What this means in terms of a scoliosis diagnosis is that each individual case of idiopathic scoliosis could have a completely different set of factors that resulted in the condition’s development and determine its rate of progression.

The ‘Scoliosis Gene’ Theory

As human beings, we are driven by a need to understand our bodies and the world around us. When we can’t come up with the answers we want or can’t reach that level of understanding that gives us feelings of mastery and control, we cast our nets wider in an attempt to explore new theories.

The scoliosis gene theory is a good example of the human need to understand and explain. If scoliosis is genetic, how much easier would it be to accept a diagnosis? Patients wouldn’t have that initial confusion as to why and how they developed such a mysterious condition. When a condition is understood as genetic, it also takes a lot of accountability off the shoulders of patients as the condition’s development is then seen as something that was inevitable, rather than caused by something the person did or didn’t do.

Regardless of how badly we might want to slap that causative title on scoliosis, the scoliosis gene theory is flawed. While there might be a genetic predisposition factor that comes into play when there is more than one case in a family, that is not consistently the case.

Twin studies show little to support the argument for the inheritability of the condition as one twin can develop the condition while the other doesn’t. Basically, one person can carry the scoliosis gene and develop the condition, while another doesn’t, or a person who doesn’t have any genetic predisposition can develop the condition due to some other multifactorial causation.

When it comes to the scoliosis gene theory, even if we could determine who is carrying the gene, there is no way to know if or when that scoliosis gene will be expressed, and why it’s expressed in some people, but not in others.

The Connection Between Cause and Treatment

One of the main reasons an idiopathic diagnosis is received with such confusion is that it begs the question of how a condition with no known cause can be treated adequately.

I often remind patients that just because their scoliosis has no known single cause doesn’t mean it can’t be treated effectively. Our approach, here at the Scoliosis Reduction Center, is to embrace the ambiguity of the condition’s causation as further motivation to fully customize each patient’s treatment plan based on their individual set of circumstances.

Just as each patient most likely has a unique set of factors that contributed to the condition’s development, their treatment plan has to have as many unique responses to their condition and its symptoms.

While we may not know what caused the majority of our patient’s scoliosis, we do know what to do to treat them and give them the best possible chances of stopping or slowing the condition’s progression and achieving a reduction. I also point out to my patients that knowing a condition’s cause doesn’t necessarily change the chosen treatment path.
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The comfort I can offer is that although we may not understand all of the condition’s root causes, we do understand how to treat it effectively, including its’ progression, symptoms. and how to cultivate the best possible patient-centered approach to help patients live their best lives with the condition.

An Average Scoliosis Reduction Center Treatment Plan 

Here at the Scoliosis Reduction Center, we approach each patient with no treatment preconceptions. Regardless of whether there is a known cause or not, we look at the individual set of circumstances and factors that can affect a patient’s ability to undergo treatment successfully.

We take into account the age of the individual, the severity of their condition, their physical fitness level prior to receiving their scoliosis diagnosis, their flexibility, weight, mental health and support system.

We work closely with our patients and their families to come up with a treatment plan that will first address the structural issue of the curvature through scoliosis-specific chiropractic care, and then will incorporate other aspects of diet, exercise, rehabilitation, possible custom 3-D bracing, and therapy.

The multifaceted approach we take to treatment reflects the condition’s multifactorial causation. We want to help our patients maintain a healthy body and create the ideal conditions for it to heal itself and strengthen the spine in a corrective position.


When it comes to understanding the nature of idiopathic scoliosis, I have to remind people that causation doesn’t necessarily impact treatment. Regardless of how or why the condition developed, my team at the Scoliosis Reduction Center focuses on what to do with that diagnosis moving forward.

Idiopathic doesn’t necessarily mean that a condition doesn’t have a cause; it just means that there is no single known concrete cause and that the condition’s cause could be multifactorial. With such a huge percentage of diagnosed scoliosis cases being idiopathic (80 percent), the motivation of the medical community and patients to understand its root causes is strong.

As fewer than one out of five scoliosis cases can be connected to a specific cause, the vast majority of people diagnosed with scoliosis have to make peace with the fact that there is so little understanding surrounding their condition’s causation. We are here to bring a level of understanding and to cultivate the best possible patient-centered approach, to help them live their best lives with the condition.

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Dr. Tony Nalda
Doctor of Chiropractic
Severe migraines as a young teen introduced Dr. Nalda to chiropractic care. After experiencing life changing results, he set his sights on helping others who face debilitating illness through providing more natural approaches.

After receiving an undergraduate degree in psychology and his Doctorate of Chiropractic from Life University, Dr. Nalda settled in Celebration, Florida and proceeded to build one of Central Florida’s most successful chiropractic clinics.

His experience with patients suffering from scoliosis, and the confusion and frustration they faced, led him to seek a specialty in scoliosis care. In 2006 he completed his Intensive Care Certification from CLEAR Institute, a leading scoliosis educational and certification center.
About Scoliosis Reduction Center
Welcome to Scoliosis Reduction Center. Our team, under the leadership of Dr. Tony Nalda, is focused on treating your scoliosis in the most patient-centered, effective manner possible.
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