Postural and muscle responses to galvanic vestibular stimulation reveal a vestibular deficit in adolescents with idiopathic scoliosis

Eur J Neurosci. 2019 Nov;50(10):3614-3626. doi: 10.1111/ejn.14525. Epub 2019 Aug 7.


One of the most appealing hypotheses around the aetiopathogenesis of adolescent idiopathic scoliosis attributes the development of the spine deformity to an imbalance in the descending vestibulospinal drive to the muscles resulting in a differential mechanical pull on the spine during the early life stages. In this study, we explored this hypothesis by examining postural and muscle responses to binaural bipolar galvanic vestibular stimulation (GVS) of randomly alternating polarity. Adolescents diagnosed with idiopathic scoliosis (n = 12) and healthy age-matched controls (n = 12) stood quietly with feet together (stance duration 66-102 s), eyes closed and facing forward, while 10 short (2s), transmastoidal, bipolar square wave GVS pulses (0.3-2.0 mA) of randomly alternating polarity were delivered at varying time intervals. Responses depicted in the electromyographic (EMG) activity of bilateral axial and appendicular muscles, vertical reaction forces and segment kinematics were recorded and analysed. Scoliotic patients demonstrated smaller ankle muscle responses and a delayed postural shift to the right relative to controls during anode right/cathode left GVS. When GVS polarity was reversed, patients had a greater soleus short-latency response on the left anodal side, while the rest of the muscle and postural responses were similar between groups. Vestibular stimulation also evoked greater head and upper trunk sway in scoliotic compared with healthy adolescents irrespective of stimulus polarity. Results provide new preliminary evidence for a vestibular imbalance in adolescents with idiopathic scoliosis that is compensated by somatosensory, load-related afferent feedback from the lower limbs during the latter part of the response.

Keywords: muscle responses; semi-circular canals; sensory integration; somatosensory feedback; vestibulospinal pathway.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Biomechanical Phenomena
  • Electric Stimulation / methods
  • Feedback, Physiological
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Muscle Contraction
  • Muscle, Skeletal / physiopathology*
  • Postural Balance*
  • Scoliosis / physiopathology*
  • Vestibular Evoked Myogenic Potentials*
  • Vestibular Nerve / physiopathology*
  • Vestibule, Labyrinth / physiopathology