Scoliosis is an abnormal curvature of the spine that affects approximately seven million people in the United States. Adult scoliosis refers to an abnormal curvature of the spine in a patient who has finished growing, and can develop as the result of an untreated childhood curvature. The curvature can be to the right or the left side and also involves a twisting or rotation of the bones of the spine.
Most children who have very severe scoliosis (curvature of the spine of 50 degrees of higher) will need surgery to reduce the curve and also to prevent the curve from getting worse. In such situations, a surgical procedure called spinal fusion is used.
During spinal fusion, small pieces of bone called bone grafts are placed between vertebrae (the small bones of the spine). The vertebrae are then essentially “welded” or fused together. The inserted bone grafts increase bone production and the vertebrae subsequently heal together into a single solid bone.
Bone grafts can be acquired from a variety of sources. Historically, autografts (bone grafts acquired from the patient’s hip) was the only option for spinal fusion. However, acquiring autografts lengthens the surgery, and can also increase pain after the procedure. Today, a variety of alternative bone graft options (both natural and artificial) have been developed.
After scoliosis correction surgery, the vertebrae need to be held together, and patients typically need to wear a brace. In many cases, plates, screws, and rods will also be used to keep the spine from moving.
Immediately after surgery, patients will likely experience more pain than was present prior to the surgery. Pain typically resolves over a period of a few to weeks to a few months.
In most cases, scoliosis correction surgery very successfully halts the spine curvature from growing. In addition, the surgery also helps to straighten the curve significantly for most patients. The degree of curvature correction typically depends on how flexible the scoliosis is before the operation. In general, the more flexible the curve, the better the correction is from surgery. Most patients recover from surgery with curves that are less than 25 degrees – i.e., curves that are hardly noticeable.
Post-surgery, most children are able to return to all normal activities and sports – with participation in non-contact sports (e.g, running, weightlifting, exercises) approximately 4 to 6 months after surgery and participation in higher-contact sports approximately 6 to 12 months after surgery.
The orthopedic experts at the Florida Spine Institute specialize in diagnosing scoliosis of the spine and performing scoliosis surgery. With the tools and technology available today, we can improve curves significantly. We’ll present the pros and cons of the different procedures so you can make an informed decision on what will best treat your problem.
Surgical Treatments for Scoliosis. American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (2011). Available at: http://orthoinfo.aaos.org/topic.cfm?topic=A00638. Last accessed December 26, 2014.
Spinal fusion. American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (2010). Available at: http://orthoinfo.aaos.org/topic.cfm?topic=a00348. Last accessed December 26, 2014.