What is scoliosis?
Scoliosis is a condition in
which the spine curves abnormally from side to side, rather than being
straight. The spine may also be twisted (rotated). Scoliosis involves spinal
curves, greater than 10 degrees, that are usually S-shaped or C-shaped.
Scoliosis occurs most often in girls who are 10 to 16 years old. In the
general population, about 1 out of 100 people (1%) have some type of
See an illustration of
What kind of surgery is done for scoliosis?
main type of surgery for scoliosis is a
spinal fusion. In this procedure, the curved part of
the backbone is straightened with rods, wires, hooks, or screws. Then small
pieces of bone are put over the spine. These pieces of bone will grow together
with the spine, fusing it into proper position.
Instrumentation without fusion is a technique in which
metal rods are attached to the spine to stabilize a spinal curve without fusing
the vertebrae together. This is only done in small children when fusion of the
spine, which stops growth in that area of the spine, is not desirable. The
child usually has to wear a brace full-time after having this surgery.
What are the risks of surgery for scoliosis?
problems that could develop from surgery for scoliosis include the
- Problems associated with back surgery, such
as nerve damage, lung problems, or spinal cord damage.
- In a child,
spinal fusion will stop growth in the area of the spine that is
- General complications from surgery, such as blood clots or
infection or complications from anesthesia. The risk of these complications is
higher in older adults.
Talk to your doctor about your or your child's chances of
having problems from surgery.
Other problems include lost time at
work or school for recovery and the possible need to wear a body cast or brace
for a few months after surgery.
What are the risks of not having surgery for scoliosis?
A severe spinal curve that is progressing and is not treated with surgery
is likely to get worse.
As scoliosis gets worse, the bones of the
spine rotate toward the inner part of the curve. If the upper part of the spine
is affected (thoracic curve), the ribs may crowd together on one side of the
body and become widely separated on the other side. The curve may force the
space between the spinal bones to narrow. The spinal bones may also become
thicker on the outer edge of the curve.
In severe curves, the
misshapen ribs may reduce the amount of air the lungs can hold and may cause
the heart to work harder to pump blood through the compressed lung tissue. Over
time, this may lead to
Scoliosis that is present
at birth or that develops in infants may be worse in the long run than
scoliosis that develops later in life. If an infant or young child with a
severe spinal curve does not have surgery, it is likely that the spinal curve
will get worse. This is because the more growing the skeleton has to do, the
worse the curve may become.
How effective is surgery for scoliosis?
for scoliosis effectively prevents further curvature of the spine and usually
can make the curvature less severe. Surgery may also help decrease pain and
allow people with scoliosis to do more daily activities than they would
Each person's scoliosis is different. Talk to your
doctor about what impact surgery for scoliosis is likely to have on you.
If you need more information, see the topic