Can Scoliosis Be Treated With Surgery?

Reviewed on 2/1/2021

What is scoliosis?

Scoliosis treatment depends on several factors, including the age when you get your diagnosis and the severity of the curvature. Doctors may recommend surgery depending on your age and the angle of the curve.
Scoliosis treatment depends on several factors, including the age when you get your diagnosis and the severity of the curvature. Doctors may recommend surgery depending on your age and the angle of the curve.

Scoliosis is a curvature of the spine. The spine is the backbone and naturally has a curve, but scoliosis is a medical term for when the curve is excessive. It is generally a C- or S-shaped curve.

Scoliosis can occur often in childhood or adolescence and usually happens more to girls than to boys. A characteristic sign is leaning to the side and having an unusual stance. The naked eye can usually see it, but sometimes it isn't easy to diagnose without a physical exam.

The cause of scoliosis is unknown. However, some doctors and researchers believe it can run in families. Continued study has led them to believe that genes and hormones are involved.. 

Some children develop scoliosis as a secondary response when other diseases or disorders are already present, such as congenital factors, genetic disease, spine injury from trauma or accident, neuromuscular disease, and tumors.

Some characteristic signs of scoliosis are:

  • Asymmetric shoulders
  • Uneven hips
  • Asymmetric rib cage

Diagnosis for scoliosis

Scoliosis is diagnosed through a combination of a physical exam and x-rays. Often, your child will have a screening in school and then will follow up in a doctor's office. The doctor will assess family and medical history and do a physical exam with x-rays to determine the severity of the condition.

Treatment for scoliosis

Scoliosis treatment depends on several factors, including the age when you get your diagnosis and the severity of the curvature. There aren’t any medications that can help treat it.

In some cases, the person only requires checkups and monitoring. More severe cases may require a brace or even surgery.

Home care

For milder cases, observation and regular checkups are key to monitoring scoliosis. When a person with scoliosis is still growing, you should carefully monitor them to see if the condition is getting worse. You may see a family doctor, pediatrician, physical therapist, or orthopedist for monitoring. If the curve is getting worse, then your doctor will discuss further treatment options.

Alternative therapies

It is becoming more common for families to seek out alternative therapies for milder cases of scoliosis. Yoga, physical therapy, and chiropractic treatments are a few ways you can treat it naturally.

Bracing

Bracing is often used in moderate cases of scoliosis when an adolescent is still growing. They will have a brace fitted to them and need to wear it for a certain number of hours each day. 

A brace is effective when worn as directed. However, in some cases, as the adolescent continues to grow, the brace is not sufficient to stop the curvature. If this happens, the doctor may suggest surgery.

Surgery

Doctors may recommend surgery depending on your age and the angle of the curve. The surgery or spinal fusion is a successful way to treat the spine's curvature when it is greater than 45 or 50 degrees.

The spinal fusion will realign and connect the vertebrae into one single piece. Spinal fusion surgery uses a bone graft, which helps seal the fusion.

A bone graft is created by using small bone pieces between the vertebrae to allow the bones to fuse and heal. They promote bone healing and stimulate bone production.

Your doctor may use metal rods to hold the spine together during the fusing process. These rods connect to the spine through screws and hooks. Spinal fusion surgery takes 4 to 8 hours, depending on the person's specific curvature.

Scoliosis surgeons can successfully treat the spinal curve and make significant improvements on the curvature. Depending on the degree of curvature, your surgeon can correct it to a noticeable level. However, it will still have a slight curve. 

The level of scoliosis flexibility determines the degree to which a surgeon can correct it. A doctor will check this before surgery and assess to what degree they can align the curve.

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The term arthritis refers to stiffness in the joints. See Answer

Possible risks and complications

If your medical professional determines that surgery is necessary, they will assess the benefits and risks that apply to your specific degree of curvature. Here are some of the risks to surgery:

  • Infection can be a risk of up to 2 to 3 years post-surgery
  • Failure of the bone to fuse is a possibility and cannot be determined until several years post-surgery
  • Injury to the spinal cord could cause paralysis in the lower extremities

Despite these risk factors, the overall rate of complications is fairly low. The hospital stay is generally 4 to 5 days, and you can begin normal daily activities after 4 to 6 weeks. 

You can resume a full return to regular activities after anywhere from 3 to 6 months, depending on your specific circumstances. Most people have some pain initially that is managed through prescription pain medication

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References
CLEAR Scoliosis Institute: "Non-Surgical Scoliosis Treatment Options."

National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases: "Scoliosis in Children and Teens."

OrthoInfo: "Surgical Treatment for Scoliosis."

University of Washington Orthopaedics and Sports Medicine: "Spinal Fusion for the Treatment of Idiopathic Scoliosis in Children."

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