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Motor development in infancy and spine shape in early old age: findings from a British birth cohort study

Saunders, Fiona R and Gregory, Jennifer S and Pavlova, Anastasia V and Muthuri, Stella G and Hardy, Rebecca J and Martin, Kathryn R and Barr, Rebecca J and Adams, Judith E and Kuh, Diana and Aspden, Richard M and Cooper, Rachel and Ireland, Alex (2020) Motor development in infancy and spine shape in early old age: findings from a British birth cohort study. Journal of Orthopaedic Research. ISSN 0736-0266


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Spine shape changes dramatically in early life, influenced by attainment of developmental milestones such as independent walking. Whether these associations persist across life is unknown. Therefore, we investigated associations between developmental milestones and spine shape, as determined using statistical shape models (SSMs) of lumbar spine from DXA scans in 1327 individuals (688 female) at 60‐64y in the MRC National Survey of Health and Development. Lumbar lordosis angle (L4 inferior endplate to T12 superior endplate) was measured using the two‐line Cobb method. In analyses adjusted for sex, height, lean and fat mass, socioeconomic position and birthweight, later walking age was associated with greater lordosis described by SSM1 (regression coefficient 0.023, 95%CI 0.000‐0.047, p=0.05) and direct angle measurement. Modest associations between walking age and less variation in anterior‐posterior vertebral size caudally (SSM6) were also observed (0.021, 95%CI ‐0.002‐0.044, p=0.07). Sex interactions showed that later walking was associated with larger relative vertebral anterior‐posterior dimensions in men (SSM3; ‐0.043, 95%CI ‐0.075‐0.01, p=0.01) but not women (0.018, 95%CI ‐0.0007‐0.043, p=0.17). Similar associations were observed between age at independent standing and SSMs but there was little evidence of association between sitting age and spine shape. Unadjusted associations between walking age and SSMs 1 and 6 remained similar after adjustment for potential confounders and mediators. This suggests that these associations may be explained by altered mechanical loading of the spine during childhood growth, although other factors could contribute. Early life motor development, particularly walking, may have a lasting effect on features of spine morphology with clinical significance.

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