Quantitative analysis of spinal curvature in 3D: application to CT images of normal spine

Phys Med Biol. 2008 Apr 7;53(7):1895-908. doi: 10.1088/0031-9155/53/7/006. Epub 2008 Mar 10.


The purpose of this study is to present a framework for quantitative analysis of spinal curvature in 3D. In order to study the properties of such complex 3D structures, we propose two descriptors that capture the characteristics of spinal curvature in 3D. The descriptors are the geometric curvature (GC) and curvature angle (CA), which are independent of the orientation and size of spine anatomy. We demonstrate the two descriptors that characterize the spinal curvature in 3D on 30 computed tomography (CT) images of normal spine and on a scoliotic spine. The descriptors are determined from 3D vertebral body lines, which are obtained by two different methods. The first method is based on the least-squares technique that approximates the manually identified vertebra centroids, while the second method searches for vertebra centroids in an automated optimization scheme, based on computer-assisted image analysis. Polynomial functions of the fourth and fifth degree were used for the description of normal and scoliotic spinal curvature in 3D, respectively. The mean distance to vertebra centroids was 1.1 mm (+/-0.6 mm) for the first and 2.1 mm (+/-1.4 mm) for the second method. The distributions of GC and CA values were obtained along the 30 images of normal spine at each vertebral level and show that maximal thoracic kyphosis (TK), thoracolumbar junction (TJ) and maximal lumbar lordosis (LL) on average occur at T3/T4, T12/L1 and L4/L5, respectively. The main advantage of GC and CA is that the measurements are independent of the orientation and size of the spine, thus allowing objective intra- and inter-subject comparisons. The positions of maximal TK, TJ and maximal LL can be easily identified by observing the GC and CA distributions at different vertebral levels. The obtained courses of the GC and CA for the scoliotic spine were compared to the distributions of GC and CA for the normal spines. The significant difference in values indicates that the descriptors of GC and CA may be used to detect and quantify scoliotic spinal curvatures. The proposed framework may therefore improve the understanding of spine anatomy and aid in the clinical quantitative evaluation of spinal deformities.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Algorithms
  • Humans
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted
  • Imaging, Three-Dimensional / instrumentation*
  • Imaging, Three-Dimensional / methods
  • Least-Squares Analysis
  • Lumbar Vertebrae / diagnostic imaging
  • Lumbar Vertebrae / pathology
  • Models, Statistical
  • Radiographic Image Enhancement / methods
  • Radiographic Image Interpretation, Computer-Assisted / methods
  • Scoliosis / diagnostic imaging
  • Scoliosis / pathology*
  • Software
  • Spine / diagnostic imaging
  • Spine / pathology*
  • Thoracic Vertebrae / diagnostic imaging
  • Thoracic Vertebrae / pathology
  • Tomography, X-Ray Computed / instrumentation*
  • Tomography, X-Ray Computed / methods