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Surgeon and Author, Dr. Stuart Gold,
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About Dr. Stuart Gold, MD

Is Back Surgery for Scoliosis Common?

January 27th, 2011

Every so often, I see a patient suffering from scoliosis. Like many other conditions, I usually answer the question, “Is Back Surgery For Scoliosis Common?” Well, here are my thoughts on that question:

Scoliosis is a condition that occurs when the spine develops a curvature to the side. Normally, the spine is straight between the neck and tailbone, with a slight curvature in the lower section and a slight outward curve in the upper back. With scoliosis, the spine forms either a C or S-shaped curve. The cause of most scoliosis is not known, although it sometimes is seen in families, suggesting a genetic predisposition to the condition. It can also be caused by conditions such as cerebral palsy and muscular dystrophy, as well as birth defects, asymmetrical leg length, and arthritis of the spine.

Back Surgery For Scoliosis

Scoliosis normally occurs in childhood, just before puberty when the body is growing quickly. Since patients typically experience no pain or discomfort, the condition is usually found by a physician during a routine check-up. Most patients will not require back surgery for scoliosis or even a brace, and the condition will have little impact on their lives. Children should be monitored every few months so that corrective actions can be taken should the curvature worsen.

Severe cases may require back surgery for scoliosis, since the spinal curvature can take up the space that the lungs need to expand properly. A twisted spine can also apply pressure to the heart, which can sometimes damage the heart. The patient may also be more prone to pneumonia, and, over time, arthritis of the spine and back pain may develop.

Back surgery for scoliosis can reduce the spinal curvature and prevent further curving. Typically, two or more vertebrae are surgically fused together. If necessary, the surgeon may use metal rods, screws, or wires to align the spine and keep it straight while healing occurs.

The physician will make treatment recommendations based on certain factors. The severity of the curve, its shape and location, and the gender and age of the patient are all considered. More pronounced curvatures are more likely to worsen, as are S-shaped curves or those in the middle of the back. Females with scoliosis are more likely to see the curvature worsen than males. After growth is complete, there is little likelihood that the curvature will worsen. All of these factors are evaluated by the physician when deciding whether to use braces, perform back surgery scoliosis, or just monitor the condition.

Spinal manipulation, such as is performed by chiropractors, has been shown to be ineffective for scoliosis. In fact, many chiropractors will not treat patients with scoliosis. Physical therapy is likewise ineffective for straightening the curvature, but may provide some relief from pain. General exercise to promote overall good health, however, is usually recommended for patients with scoliosis.

I hope this helped you learn more about the frequency and commonality of back surgery for scoliosis.

Until next time,

About the Author: Dr. Stuart Gold, M.D. is a board certified orthopedic surgeon who has 23 years experience specializing in sport injuries, joint replacement, arthritis and limb salvage. As the Director of the Orthopedic Institute, Dr. Gold recently published The Patient's Guide To Orthopedic Surgery to help patients better understand the challenges, risks and opportunities of orthopedic care.

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