Ascertaining the detailed shape and spatial arrangement of anatomical structures is important not only within diagnostic settings but also in the areas of planning, simulation, intraoperative navigation, and tracking of pathology. Robust, accurate and efficient automated segmentation of anatomical structures is difficult because of their complexity and inter-patient variability. Furthermore, the position of the patient during image acquisition, the imaging device and protocol, image resolution, and other factors induce additional variations in shape and appearance. Statistical shape models (SSMs) have proven quite successful in capturing structural variability. A possible approach to obtain a 3D SSM is to extract reference voxels by precisely segmenting the structure in one, reference image. The corresponding voxels in other images are determined by registering the reference image to each other image. The SSM obtained in this way describes statistically plausible shape variations over the given population as well as variations due to imperfect registration. In this paper, we present a completely automated method that significantly reduces shape variations induced by imperfect registration, thus allowing a more accurate description of variations. At each iteration, the derived SSM is used for coarse registration, which is further improved by describing finer variations of the structure. The method was tested on 64 lumbar spinal column CT scans, from which 23, 38, 45, 46 and 42 volumes of interest containing vertebra L1, L2, L3, L4 and L5, respectively, were extracted. Separate SSMs were generated for each vertebra. The results show that the method is capable of reducing the variations induced by registration errors.