Restrained Differential Growth: The Initiating Event of Adolescent Idiopathic Scoliosis?

Tom Joris Crijns, Agnita Stadhouder, Theodoor Henri Smit*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Study Design. An experimental model study and a short review of literature. Objective. The purpose of this study was to explore a new hypothesis suggesting that the curvatures seen in adolescent idiopathic scoliosis (AIS) originate from restrained differential growth between the vertebral column and the surrounding musculo-ligamentary structures. Summary of Background Data. Despite decades of research, there is no generally accepted theory on the physical origin of the severe spinal deformations seen in AIS. The prevailing theories tend to focus on left-right asymmetry, rotational instability, or the sagittal spinal profile in idiopathic scoliosis. Methods. We test our hypothesis with a physical model of the spine that simulates growth, counteracted by ligaments and muscles, modeled by tethers and springs. Growth of the spine is further restrained by an anterior band representing the thorax, the linea alba, and abdominal musculature. We also explore literature in search of molecular mechanisms that may induce differential growth. Results. Differential growth in the restrained spine model first induces hypokyphosis and mild lateral bending of the thoracic spine, but then suddenly escalates into a scoliotic deformity, consistent with clinical observations of AIS. The band simulating the ventral structures of the body had a pivotal effect on sagittal curvature and the initiation of lateral bending and rotation. In literature, several molecular mechanisms were found that may explain the occurrence of differential growth between the spine and the musculo-ligamentary structures. Conclusion. While AIS is a three-dimensional deformation of the spine, it appears that restrained differential growth in the sagittal plane can result in lateral bending and rotation without a pre-existing left-right asymmetry. This supports the concept that AIS may result from a growth imbalance rather than a local anatomical defect.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)E726-E732
Issue number12
Publication statusPublished - 15 Jun 2017

Cite this