Spinal growth tethering: indications and limits

Peter O. Newton


The standard of care for progressive spinal deformity that is greater than 45–50 degrees in growing children is deformity correction with spinal fusion and instrumentation. This sacrifice both spinal motion and further spinal growth of the fused region. Idiopathic scoliosis in particular is associated with disproportionate anterior spinal column length compared to the posterior column (hypokyphosis) that is associated with the coronal (scoliosis) and axial plane (rib and lumbar prominence) deformities. In theory, application of compression to the convex and anterior aspects of vertebrae could decrease both anterior and lateral growth via the Hueter-Volkmann principle, while allowing growth on the concave and posterior aspect resulting in spinal realignment created by altered growth. Animal models and preliminary clinical experience suggest spinal growth can be modulated in this way using a flexible tether applied to the convex side of scoliotic vertebral column. Experimental studies suggest disc health is preserved with a flexible tether as disc motion is maintained during the growth period. Anterolateral tethering been performed via a thoracoscopic spinal approach clinically for a number of years and the early clinical outcomes are beginning to appear in the literature. Initial results of anterolateral tethering in growing patients with spinal deformities are encouraging, however the results 3–4 years after the procedure are somewhat mixed. Further research is ongoing and many remain optimistic that improvements in technology and understanding will continue to lead to better patient outcomes.