Scoliosis Surgery

Typically, surgery for scoliosis is recommended for people who are still growing, have a curve that is more than 45 degrees, and have a curve that is getting worse. The goal of this type of surgery is to balance the spine and keep it from continuing to curve. The primary surgery will correct, stabilize, and fuse the curve caused by scoliosis.

Surgery for Scoliosis: An Overview

Severe scoliosis can lead to:
 
  • Problems with the heart and lungs
  • Pain
  • Low self-image
  • Premature death.
 
To help keep these problems from occurring, doctors may recommend scoliosis surgery for certain people.
 
In most cases, doctors advise people to have surgery for scoliosis to correct a curve or stop it from worsening when the person:
 
  • Is still growing
  • Has a curve that is more than 45 degrees
  • Has a curve that is getting worse.
 
One-third of the 30,000 to 70,000 spinal surgery procedures done each year are done for scoliosis.
 

Goals of Scoliosis Surgery

The goal of surgery for scoliosis is to balance the spine and stop it from continuing to curve. The goal is not to completely straighten the spine, which may cause damage to the spinal cord. Each person should discuss his or her options with at least two experienced surgeons.
 

Correction, Stabilization, and Fusion

The main scoliosis surgery is correction, stabilization, and fusion of the curve. Many different surgical techniques can be used to correct, stabilize, and fuse the curves. For example, one approach for surgery is done through the back (posterior approach). In other cases, surgery can be done through the front (anterior approach). The specific method the doctor recommends is based on a number of factors, including the location and severity of the curve.
 
Surgeons can also choose different ways to straighten the spine (correction) and also different implants to keep the spine stable after surgery (stabilization). Implants are devices that remain in the person after surgery to keep the spine aligned. Types of implants used for scoliosis surgery can include rods, screws, hooks, and wires.
 
The decision about the type of implant will depend on:
 
  • The cost
  • The size of the implant, which depends on the size of the person
  • The shape of the implant
  • The safety of the implant
  • The experience of the surgeon.
 
After the curve has been straightened, the surgeon will fuse the different vertebrae that were causing the curve. Fusion is the joining of two or more vertebrae so that motion no longer occurs between them. This is done by taking pieces of bone from the pelvis, ribs, or the spine itself. Over several months, the healed fusions harden in a straightened position, leaving the rest of the spine flexible. This will prevent further curving of the spine.
 
Written by/reviewed by: Arthur Schoenstadt, MD
Last reviewed by: Arthur Schoenstadt, MD
Last updated/reviewed:
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