Open Access Highly Accessed Open Badges Review

Biomechanical spinal growth modulation and progressive adolescent scoliosis – a test of the 'vicious cycle' pathogenetic hypothesis: Summary of an electronic focus group debate of the IBSE

Ian AF Stokes1, R Geoffrey Burwell2* and Peter H Dangerfield3

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Orthopaedics and Rehabilitation, University of Vermont, Burlington, Vermont 05405, USA

2 The Centre for Spinal Studies & Surgery, Queen's Medical Centre, Nottingham, NG7 2UH, UK

3 Sherrington Buildings, Ashton Street, Liverpool, L69 3GE, UK

For all author emails, please log on.

Scoliosis 2006, 1:16  doi:10.1186/1748-7161-1-16

Published: 18 October 2006


There is no generally accepted scientific theory for the causes of adolescent idiopathic scoliosis (AIS). As part of its mission to widen understanding of scoliosis etiology, the International Federated Body on Scoliosis Etiology (IBSE) introduced the electronic focus group (EFG) as a means of increasing debate on knowledge of important topics. This has been designated as an on-line Delphi discussion. The text for this debate was written by Dr Ian A Stokes. It evaluates the hypothesis that in progressive scoliosis vertebral body wedging during adolescent growth results from asymmetric muscular loading in a "vicious cycle" (vicious cycle hypothesis of pathogenesis) by affecting vertebral body growth plates (endplate physes). A frontal plane mathematical simulation tested whether the calculated loading asymmetry created by muscles in a scoliotic spine could explain the observed rate of scoliosis increase by measuring the vertebral growth modulation by altered compression. The model deals only with vertebral (not disc) wedging. It assumes that a pre-existing scoliosis curve initiates the mechanically-modulated alteration of vertebral body growth that in turn causes worsening of the scoliosis, while everything else is anatomically and physiologically 'normal' The results provide quantitative data consistent with the vicious cycle hypothesis. Dr Stokes' biomechanical research engenders controversy. A new speculative concept is proposed of vertebral symphyseal dysplasia with implications for Dr Stokes' research and the etiology of AIS. What is not controversial is the need to test this hypothesis using additional factors in his current model and in three-dimensional quantitative models that incorporate intervertebral discs and simulate thoracic as well as lumbar scoliosis. The growth modulation process in the vertebral body can be viewed as one type of the biologic phenomenon of mechanotransduction. In certain connective tissues this involves the effects of mechanical strain on chondrocytic metabolism a possible target for novel therapeutic intervention.