Clinical Orthopaedics and Related Research ®

A Publication of The Association of Bone and Joint Surgeons ®

Do Secular Trends in Skeletal Maturity Occur Equally in Both Sexes?

Dana L. Duren PhD, Ramzi W. Nahhas PhD, Richard J. Sherwood PhD



Skeletal maturity assessment provides information on a child’s physical development and expectations based on chronological age. Given recently recognized trends for earlier maturity in a variety of systems, most notably puberty, examination of sex-specific secular trends in skeletal maturation is important. For the orthopaedist, recent trends and changes in developmental timing can affect clinical management (eg, treatment timing) if they are currently based on outdated sources.


(1) Has the male or female pediatric skeleton experienced a secular trend for earlier maturation over the past 80 years? (2) Do all indicators of maturity trend in the same direction (earlier versus later)?


In this retrospective study, a total of 1240 children were examined longitudinally through hand-wrist radiographs for skeletal maturity based on the Fels method. All subjects participate in the Fels Longitudinal Study based in Ohio and were born between 1930 and 1964 for the “early” cohort and between 1965 and 2001 for the “recent” cohort. Sex-specific secular trends were estimated for (1) mean relative skeletal maturity through linear mixed models; and (2) median age of maturation for individual maturity indicators through logistic regression and generalized estimating equations.


Overall relative skeletal maturity was significantly advanced in the recent cohort (maximum difference of 5 months at age 13 years for girls, 4 months at age 15 years for boys). For individual maturity indicators, the direction and magnitude of secular trends varied by indicator type and sex. The following statistically significant secular trends were found: (1) earlier maturation of indicators of fusion in both sexes (4 months for girls, 3 months for boys); (2) later maturation of indicators of projection in long bones in both sexes (3 months for girls, 2 months for boys); (3) earlier maturation of indicators of density (4 months) and projection (3 months) in carpals and density in long bones (6 months), for girls only; and (4) later maturation of indicators of long bone shape (3 months) for boys only.


A secular trend has occurred in the tempo of maturation of individual components of the pediatric skeleton, and it has occurred in a sex-specific manner. The mosaic nature of this trend, with both earlier and later maturation of individual components of the skeletal age phenotype, calls for greater attention to specific aspects of maturation in addition to the overall skeletal age estimate. The Fels method is currently the most robust method for capturing these components, and future work by our group will deliver an updated, user-friendly version of the Fels assessment tool.

Clinical Relevance

Appreciation of sex-specific secular changes in maturation is important for clinical management, including treatment timing, of orthopaedic patients, because children today exhibit a different pattern of maturation than children on whom original maturity assessments were based (including Fels and Greulich-Pyle).

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