A retrospective study of 2442 patients who had idiopathic scoliosis was performed to determine the prevalence of back pain and its association with an underlying pathological condition. Five hundred and sixty (23 per cent) of the 2442 patients had back pain at the time of presentation, and an additional 210 (9 per cent) had back pain during the period of observation. There was a significant association between back pain and an age of more than fifteen years, skeletal maturity (a Risser sign of 2 or more), post-menarchal status, and a history of injury. There was no association with gender, family history of scoliosis, limb-length discrepancy, magnitude or type of curve, or spinal alignment. At the latest follow-up evaluation, 324 (58 per cent) of the 560 patients who had had back pain at presentation had no additional symptoms.Forty-eight (9 per cent) of the 560 patients who had back pain had an underlying pathological condition: twenty-nine patients had spondylolysis or spondylolisthesis, nine had Scheurmann kyphosis, five had a syrinx, two had a herniated disc, one had hydromyelia, one had a tethered cord, and one had an intraspinal tumor. A painful left thoracic curve or an abnormal neurological finding was most predictive of an underlying pathological condition, although only eight of the thirty-three patients who had such findings were found to have such a condition.When a patient with scoliosis has back pain, a careful history should be recorded, a thorough physical examination should be performed, and good-quality plain radiographs should be made. If this initial evaluation reveals normal findings, a diagnosis of idiopathic scoliosis can be made, the scoliosis can be treated appropriately, and non-operative treatment can be initiated for the back pain. It is not necessary to perform extensive diagnostic studies to evaluate every patient who has scoliosis and back pain.