Causes and Diagnoses

Causes and Diagnoses of Pediatric Scoliosis

In more than 80 percent of cases, the cause of scoliosis is idiopathic, or unknown. Overall, scoliosis is more common in females than males.

When scoliosis is congenital, or present at birth, it can be caused by:

  • Failure of the vertebrae to form normally
  • Absence of vertebrae
  • Partially formed vertebrae
  • Lack of separation of the vertebrae

Other causes of scoliosis may include:

  • Hereditary conditions that run in families
  • Differences in leg lengths
  • Injury
  • Infection
  • Tumors


In addition to a complete medical history and physical examination, X-rays are the primary diagnostic tool for scoliosis. In establishing a diagnosis of scoliosis, your physician can measure the degree of spinal curvature on the X-ray.

Other diagnostic procedures may also be performed for non-idiopathic curvatures, atypical curve patterns or congenital scoliosis:

  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI): This diagnostic procedure uses a combination of large magnets and a computer to produce detailed images of organs and structures within the body.
  • Computed tomography (CT) scan: This diagnostic imaging procedure uses a combination of X-rays and computer technology to produce horizontal, or axial, images (often called slices) of the body. A CT scan shows detailed images of any part of the body, including the bones, muscles, fat and organs.

Early detection of scoliosis is important for successful treatment. Your pediatrician or family physician, and even some school programs, routinely look for signs of scoliosis.

What is the long-term outlook for your child?

The management of scoliosis is individualized for each child depending on his or her age, amount of curvature, and amount of time remaining for skeletal growth.

Scoliosis requires frequent examinations by your child's physician to monitor the curve as your child grows and develops. If left untreated, scoliosis can cause problems with heart and lung function.