Scoliosis (pronounced sko-lee-o-sis) is a three-dimensional abnormality that occurs when the spine becomes rotated and curved sideways.

Most often this condition has no known cause, in which case it is called idiopathic scoliosis.

While the cause is unknown, idiopathic scoliosis does tend to run in families. The specific genes involved have not all been identified yet, and there could be factors beyond genetics as well.1

Some people mistakenly think that carrying heavy book bags or sleeping on the side could cause scoliosis, but that is not the case. See Backpacks and Back Pain in Children

About 3% of the population is estimated to have idiopathic scoliosis.

Typically, idiopathic scoliosis is categorized by the age at which the deformity developed:

  1. Infantile idiopathic scoliosis: develops from birth to 3 years old
  2. Juvenile idiopathic scoliosis: develops from 4 to 9 years old
  3. Adolescent idiopathic scoliosis: develops from 10 to 18 years oldAdolescent scoliosis comprises approximately 80% of all idiopathic scoliosis cases. Adolescence is when rapid growth typically occurs, which is why the detection of a curve at this stage should be monitored closely for progression as the child’s skeleton develops.


The idiopathic scoliosis in and of itself is generally not thought to cause significant pain, especially in adolescents and young adults. However, a scoliosis curve can cause trunk imbalances and other issues that increase the likelihood for muscle spasms and other issues, which can in turn lead to pain.

Adams Test

This test involves a healthcare professional observing the patient bending forward at the waist 90 degrees with arms stretched toward the floor and knees straight. From this position, most scoliosis signs that present as asymmetry are clearly visible in the spine and/or trunk of the body, such as:

One shoulder or shoulder blade is higher than the other
Rib cage appears higher on one side (also called a rib hump)
One hip appears higher or more prominent than the other
The waist appears uneven
The body tilts to one side
One leg may appear shorter than the other