Surgery for scoliosis is used when adolescent curvatures are greater than 45º and greater than a 50º curvature in an adult scoliosis. The goal of scoliosis surgery is to prevent progression, obtain some correction, decrease pressure on heart and lungs, decrease pain and improve postural aesthetics.
How is Scoliosis Surgery Done?
Scoliosis surgery is one of the longest, most complicated, risky and costly orthopedic surgical procedures. The operation can take between 5 and 10 hours. It begins with an incision about 30.5 cm along the spinal column, this is called the posterior approach. Less commonly, an anterior approach is used through the front or side of the patient. Next, metal rods (often called Harrington rods) are attached to the sides of the spinal bones with screws, hooks or wires. Typically, there are 2 rods attached to both sides of the spine. The final part of the surgery is called the fusion. Small fragments of bone are used to pack around the rods. The bone fragments will eventually grow together and form a fusion to prevent a curve from forming again. With scoliosis surgery recovery, patients can expect to be in the intensive care unit for 1-2 days and then transferred to a hospital room for 5 to 7 days. Physical therapy is used to help rehabilitate the scoliosis after surgery and decrease recovery time.
Warning – Video of Graphic Scoliosis Surgery Procedure
The scoliosis surgery risks involved are infection, blood loss and neurological damage, resulting in paraplegia or quadriplegia. The risk of death is less than 1%. It is expected that the average patient will have a reduction in spinal range of motion (mobility) by 25%. Other risks can include chronic pain and psychological impairment. Research shows that surgery leaves up to 40% of patients severely handicapped within 17 years. Additionally, there is virtually a 100% rate of hardware failure that can occur immediately after surgery of within several years. The metal rods can bend, break loose from the wires, or worse, break completely in two, necessitating further surgical intervention and removal of the rod. Research found that when rods were removed, corrosion (rust) was found on two out of every three patients’ rod. Since the spine is built the move in multiple different planes, it is understandable that when metal rods are placed to restrict this movement there will be a consequence.
When Dr. Paul Harrington invented and used metal rods to surgically straighten the spine he stated that “metal does not cure the disease of scoliosis”. Essentially, surgery is a procedure that takes a flexible and curved spine and replaces it with a fused and straighter spine. More recent research on scoliosis surgery states that “research to develop effective non-surgical methods to prevent progression of mild, reversible spinal curvatures into complex, irreversible spinal deformities is long overdue.”
Since idiopathic scoliosis is a complicated three-dimensional deformity of the spine there is no easy way of treating it. Considering the risks and the poor outcomes, scoliosis surgery is considered the treatment of last resort. Fortunately, there are safe, effective, and research-based alternatives available. The SpineCor brace is one of those alternatives. If you are interested moving forward with your scoliosis condition please contact our office.