Mechanical modulation of growth for the correction of vertebral wedge deformities



This study tested the following hypotheses: (a) a vertebral wedge deformity created by chronic static asymmetrical loading will be corrected by reversal of the load asymmetry; (b) a vertebral wedge deformity created by chronic static asymmetrical loading will remain if the load is simply removed; and (c) vertebral longitudinal growth rates, altered by chronic static loading, will return to normal after removal of the load. An external fixator was used to impose an angular deformity (Cobb angle of 30°) and an axial compression force (60% body weight) on the ninth caudal (apical) vertebra in two groups of 125-week-old Sprague Dawley rats. This asymmetrical loading was applied to all rats for 4 weeks to create an initial wedge deformity in the apical vertebra. The rats from group I (load reversal) then underwent 1 week of distraction loading followed by 4 weeks of asymmetrical compressive loading with the imposed 30° Cobb angle reversed. The rats from group II (load removal) had the apparatus removed and were followed for 5 weeks with no external loading. Weekly radiographs were obtained and serial fluorochrome labels were administered to follow vertebral wedging. After the initial 4-week loading period, the combined average wedge deformity that developed in the apical vertebra of the animals in both groups was 10.7 ± 4.4°. The group that underwent load reversal showed significant correction of the deformity with the wedging of the apical vertebra decreasing to, on average, 0.1 ± 1.4° during the 4 weeks of load reversal. Wedging of the apical vertebra in the group that underwent load removal significantly decreased to 7.3 ± 3.9° during the first week after removal of the load, but no significant changes in wedging occurred after that week. This indicated a return to a normal growth pattern following the removal of the asymmetrically applied loading. The longitudinal growth rate of the apical vertebra also returned to normal following removal of the load. Vertebrae maintained under a load of 60% body weight grew at a rate that was 59.4 ± 17.0% lower than that of the control vertebrae, whereas after vertebrae were unloaded their growth averaged 102.4 ± 31.8%. These findings show that a vertebral wedge deformity can be corrected by reversing the load used to create it and that vertebral growth is not permanently affected by applied loading.