The transformation of spinal curvature into spinal deformity: Pathological processes and implications for treatment

Martha C. Hawes, Joseph P. O'Brien

Research output: Contribution to journalReview article

54 Scopus citations

Abstract

Background: This review summarizes what is known about the pathological processes (e.g. structural and functional changes), by which spinal curvatures develop and evolve into spinal deformities. Methods: Comprehensive review of articles (English language only) published on 'scoliosis,' whose content yielded data on the pathological changes associated with spinal curvatures. Medline, Science Citation Index and other searches yielded > 10,000 titles each of which was surveyed for content related to 'pathology' and related terms such as 'etiology,' 'inheritance,' 'pathomechanism,' 'signs and symptoms.' Additional resources included all books published on 'scoliosis' and available through the Arizona Health Sciences Library, Interlibrary Loan, or through direct contact with the authors or publishers. Results: A lateral curvature of the spine-'scoliosis'-can develop in association with postural imbalance due to genetic defects and injury as well as pain and scarring from trauma or surgery. Irrespective of the factor that triggers its appearance, a sustained postural imbalance can result, over time, in establishment of a state of continuous asymmetric loading relative to the spinal axis. Recent studies support the longstanding hypothesis that spinal deformity results directly from such postural imbalance, irrespective of the primary trigger, because the dynamics of growth within vertebrae are altered by continuous asymmetric mechanical loading. These data suggest that, as long as growth potential remains, evolution of a spinal curvature into a spinal deformity can be prevented by reversing the state of continuous asymmetric loading. Conclusion: Spinal curvatures can routinely be diagnosed in early stages, before pathological deformity of the vertebral elements is induced in response to asymmetric loading. Current clinical approaches involve 'watching and waiting' while mild reversible spinal curvatures develop into spinal deformities with potential to cause symptoms throughout life. Research to define patient-specific mechanics of spinal loading may allow quantification of a critical threshold at which curvature establishment and progression become inevitable, and thereby yield strategies to prevent development of spinal deformity.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number3
JournalScoliosis
Volume1
Issue number1
DOIs
StatePublished - Mar 31 2006

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Orthopedics and Sports Medicine

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