Do Environmental Factors Cause Scoliosis?

Hearing your child is hurt or sick rocks your world. And if your child has just been told they have scoliosis, it probably triggered a rapid-fire list of questions you need answers to right away: Is this disabling? Are they in pain? Will it get worse? Is there a cure? A treatment? And the one you really dread: Could I have stopped it?

Dr. Patrick S. McNulty, our double-board certified, award-winning spine specialist, understands your fears and concerns. At McNulty Spine, we’re here to answer all your questions about scoliosis and put your mind at ease. Today, we’d like to address the issue of environmental factors and whether or not they can cause scoliosis.

Common causes of scoliosis

Your spine is meant to be straight from neck to tailbone, but certain conditions can cause it to develop with a curvature or S shape; this is called scoliosis. A slight curve in your spine can go unnoticed and never develop any symptoms, but it often progresses and causes pain and difficulty breathing, walking, sitting, standing, and doing everyday activities.

Scoliosis does run in families, but not 100% of the time. There are several known things that can cause scoliosis, such as:

But those causes only make up about 20% of the reasons for scoliosis. The other 80% are unknown (idiopathic). If your child is diagnosed with adolescent idiopathic scoliosis (AIS), they’re one of about 2%-4% of kids their age around the world living with the condition and wondering why.

Scientists have been studying scoliosis for many years trying to understand the disease’s origins more clearly, in hopes of developing effective treatments or prevention strategies. Here’s what we know to date.

Scoliosis and environmental factors

Once you rule out the three known causes of scoliosis listed above, you begin looking at all the other possible culprits, and the environment seems a logical place to look. We’re way ahead of you. For years, researchers have investigated the environmental factors that might contribute to scoliosis and have come up empty handed. Some of the specific studies have explored:

While none of these reports conclusively point to an environmental cause for scoliosis, the search continues. We do know that multiple factors can lead to changes in musculoskeletal structures and growth patterns. One thing you can rest assured of, your child doesn’t have AIS because of a heavy backpack or slouching at their desk.

Treating and stopping the progression of scoliosis

As we continue to look for the causes of AIS, there are some very effective treatments that can help your child slow or stop the progression of the curve. Mild cases typically respond well to a simple brace. In extreme cases, Dr. McNulty may need to perform spinal fusion surgery. But in many AIS cases, Dr. McNulty suggests The Tether™ System

This FDA-approved treatment involves anchoring screws into the spine and attaching a cord through them. Dr. McNulty then increases the tension on the cord, which begins to straighten the spine. This is especially effective for kids with AIS and a curvature of 35-65 degrees. 

The Tether continues to straighten the spine as your child grows, which may help them avoid spinal fusion surgery later. 

If your child has scoliosis, don’t blame yourself. Many factors, most of them unknown, lead to this structural change in the spine. The best way to help your child is to get them the best medical treatment possible by calling Dr. McNulty at either of our Henderson or Las Vegas, Nevada, offices, or using the online tool to request an appointment.

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