Scoliosis is a complex medical condition that affects several different systems in the body and results in spinal deformity. While medical research about scoliosis has progressed rapidly in the last decade or so, the methods previously used to treat it did not significantly change for over a century. Even today, surgery remains the most common option for treating scoliosis.
Causes of Scoliosis
The vast majority of people who suffer from have what is known as idiopathic scoliosis. This term inaccurately means that the cause is unknown as doctors today know quite a bit about what causes it. Genetics play a large role in idiopathic scoliosis, and it is very common for it to run in a family. Screening can be performed in order to determine how likely a child is to develop the condition.
There are also a few other kinds of scoliosis that have different causes. It may appear after a person has a fracture or disease in the spine. In addition, spinal curvature may occur as the result of genetic diseases such as Down’s syndrome or Marfan’s syndrome, diseases of the muscles like muscular dystrophy, conditions involving the central nervous system like cerebral palsy or the presence of abnormally formed vertebral column at birth.
Treatments for Scoliosis
The vast majority of scoliosis cases are so mild that they do not require any sort of treatment. However, there are several factors that come into consideration when a person is treated for scoliosis, and the main factors include their age, the degree of spinal curvature that they are experiencing and the risk of it progressing further.
A doctor will generally check scoliosis in adults once per year and children two to three times annually to get an idea of how their spine is doing. They will often have people wear a back brace until their bones have finished growing in order to prevent a moderate curve from getting worse. Severe cases or moderate curves that continue to get worse generally involve being referred to a spine doctor who will determine if they need surgery.
Surgery for Scoliosis
Back surgery for scoliosis generally takes the form of open back fusion, and the type of surgery performed will depend on the kind of spinal curvature that a person is experiencing. A posterior surgical approach involves an incision made along the entire length of the back. Rods are inserted after the back muscles are moved out of the way in order to reduce the curvature in the spine. The surgeon then uses bone to force the spine to start fusing back together. This process can take up to a year but is generally completed within six months.
Patients may also need a surgery known as anterior release if they have rigid curvature or a severe deformity. This involves removing a disc from the front and replacing it with bone, and it is particularly helpful in treating children as it allows for better growth in the skeletal structure.
An anterior surgical approach is generally used when the curvature is at the thoracolumbar junction. With this, the back surgeon goes in through the front and removes a rib and affected discs before placing the rod. While this method offers a number of advantages over a posterior approach, it is not used as often as curvature occurs in most patients’ thoracic spine.
Laser Spine Surgery
Laser spine surgery is a new option that involves the use of lasers to gain access to a person’s spinal column. This kind of surgery is only available for adults, and there is no need to dissect the soft tissue or muscle in the back. During the procedure, tubes are put into the incisions that will allow doctors to realign vertebrae, decompress neural structures or remove intervertebral discs. People who opt for laser surgery will enjoy a faster recovery time as the spine surgeon will only have to make small incisions.
There are a number of risks and side effects that may be involved in back surgery for scoliosis. These can include things such as excessive blood loss, cerebrospinal fluid leakage, infection and problems with the rods, hooks or screws. The most significant risk is the patient becoming paraplegic. However, this happens only in extremely rare cases using modern procedures.
The cost of scoliosis surgery can vary widely depending on the methods used, the extent of the curvature and a number of other factors. Traditional spinal surgery lasts for around 10 hours, and the length of time that a person spends in the hospital after the surgery will depend on a number of factors. The most crucial aspect of determining what spinal surgery will ultimately cost a person is their insurance coverage. Insurance companies will generally pay for between 80 and 90 percent of the surgery’s total cost. The patient is responsible for the remainder.
Alternative Scoliosis Treatment
There are chiropractors who incorporate physical therapy, exercises and stretches to improve or eliminate curvature of the spine in people who are suffering from scoliosis. Pioneered by the Clear Institute, this type of therapy may be able to cure those who have curvature that is less than 20 degrees. This could be a good option for some people as surgeons will generally not operate on individuals whose spines curve less than this amount. The therapy generally takes around 18 sessions followed by a year of exercise and may also be beneficial for those whose spines curve more severely.
There are also suits designed to create new muscle memory that can in turn assist in reducing spinal curvature associated with scoliosis. These activity suits are worn while individuals perform exercises to stabilize and reduce atypical muscle firing. Unlike a brace, these suits do not exert any pressure on curve peaks to force correction as this does not aid in creating new muscle memory that helps the spine.
Traditional Doctors and Alternative Treatments
People who are suffering from scoliosis should bear in mind that doctors can often be dismissive of any scoliosis treatment that does not involve either surgery or braces. Those who are interested in these methods should make sure to contact a receptive medical professional before proceeding with any type of alternative treatment.
While surgery for scoliosis may be painful, it is the most effective way to correct a curving spine or stop it from progressing. It is a difficult procedure for the patient and their loved ones, but the end result will be a much healthier skeletal structure.