The lasting legacy of Paul Randall Harrington to pediatric spine surgery

Historical vignette

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Spinal arthrodesis was the first successful treatment for scoliosis, performed by Dr. Russell A. Hibbs in 1911 and later by Dr. Fred H. Albee for tuberculosis. In 1914, Dr. H.P.H. Galloway and Dr. Hibbs began using the method to treat neuromuscular scoliosis in patients with poliomyelitis. However, this treatment approach was plagued by loss of deformity correction over time and high pseudarthrosis rates. The turning point in the operative management of spinal deformities began in 1947 with Dr. Paul Randall Harrington when he started a decade-long process to revolutionize surgical treatment of spinal deformities culminating in the advent of the Harrington Rod, the first successful implantable spinal instrumentation system. During the epoch that he was in practice, Dr. Harrington's achievement influenced the technology and art of spine surgery for his contemporaries and the coming generations of spine surgeons. The purpose of this article is to review the life of Dr. Harrington, and how he has arguably come to be known as “Father of the Modern Treatment of Scoliosis.”

Article Information

Address correspondence to: Andrew Jea, M.D., Texas Children's Hospital, 6621 Fannin Street, CCC 1230.01, 12th Floor, Houston, Texas 77030. email:

Please include this information when citing this paper: published online December 7, 2012; DOI: 10.3171/2012.11.SPINE12979.

© AANS, except where prohibited by US copyright law.



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    A picture of Dr. Harrington (left) and his associate Dr. Jesse H. Dickson (right), now Professor Emeritus, Baylor College of Medicine, circa early 1970s. Dr. Dickson did a wonderful job carrying on and documenting Dr. Harrington's work after Harrington's health declined in 1968. Used with permission from the Harrington Archives, Department of History and Philosophy of Medicine and its Archives, Kansas University Medical Center.

  • View in gallery

    Paul Harrington (center) as co-captain of the 1933–1934 Big Six championship basketball team. Used with permission from the Harrington Archives, Department of History and Philosophy of Medicine and its Archives, Kansas University Medical Center.

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    Paul Harrington (front row, fifth from left) as a freshman in the University of Kansas Medical School Class of 1934–1935. Used with permission from the Harrington Archives, Department of History and Philosophy of Medicine and its Archives, Kansas University Medical Center.

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    A drawing from Zimmer Manufacturing dated June 2, 1955, showing an assembly of their interpretation of Harrington's original, individual hook-and-rod drawings. Among other things it is interesting because it envisions segmental anchorage. Used with permission from the Harrington Archives, Department of History and Philosophy of Medicine and its Archives, Kansas University Medical Center.

  • View in gallery

    Preoperative (left) and 1-year postoperative (right) posteroanterior radiographs of a 13-year-old girl with idiopathic scoliosis. These images are from Harrington's classic 1962 article. Reproduced with permission from Harrington PR: J Bone Joint Surg Am 44-A:591–610, 1962.

  • View in gallery

    Graph of the number of PubMed citations per year of Dr. Harrington's 1962 seminal publication.25 These data show that the basic fundamentals and principles of the treatment of scoliosis that Dr. Harrington taught are still growing in their impact even today.


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  • 28

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  • 30

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  • 34

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  • 35

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