Date of Award

Summer 8-2022

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Mechanical & Aerospace Engineering


Mechanical Engineering

Committee Director

Sebastian Bawab

Committee Member

Stacie Ringleb

Committee Member

Michel Audette

Committee Member

Gene Hou


Adolescent Idiopathic Scoliosis, a three-dimensional deformity of the thoracolumbar spine, affects approximately 1-3% of patients ages 10-18. Surgical correction and treatment of the spinal column is a costly and high-risk task that is consistently complicated by factors such as patient-specific spinal deformities, curve flexibility, and surgeon experience. The following dissertation utilizes finite element analysis to develop a cost-effective, building-block approach by which surgical procedures and kinematic evaluations may be investigated. All studies conducted are based off a volumetric, thoracolumbar finite element (FE) model developed from computer-aided design (CAD) anatomy whose components are kinematically validated with in-vitro data. Spinal ligament stiffness properties derived from the literature are compared for kinematic assessment of a thoracic functional spinal unit (FSU) and benchmarked with available in-vitro kinematic data. Once ligament stiffness properties were selected, load sharing among soft tissues (e.g., ligaments and intervertebral disc) within the same FSU is then assessed during individual steps of a posterior correction procedure commonly used on scoliosis patients. Finally, the entire thoracolumbar spine is utilized to mechanically induce a mild scoliosis profile through an iterative preload and growth procedure described by the Hueter-Volkmann law. The mild scoliosis model is then kinematically compared with an asymptomatic counterpart. The thoracic deformation exhibited in the mild scoliosis model compared well with available CT datasets.

Key findings of the studies confirm the importance of appropriately assigning spinal ligament properties with traditional toe and linear stiffness regimes to properly characterize thoracic spine FE models. Stiffness properties assigned within spinal FE models may also alter how intact ligaments and intervertebral discs respond to external loads during posterior correction procedures involving serial ligament removal, and thus can affect any desired post-surgical outcomes. Lastly, the thoracolumbar spine containing mild scoliosis experiences up to a 37% reduction in global range of motion compared to an asymptomatic spine, while also exhibiting larger decreases in segmental axial rotations at apical deformity levels. Future studies will address kinematic behavior of a severe scoliosis deformity and set the stage for column-based osseoligamentous load sharing assessments during surgical procedures.