For many individuals diagnosed with severe cases of scoliosis, the only available treatment option is spinal fusion surgery. This, of course, can be quite daunting and worrying, especially if the patient is young or has never undergone any sort of surgical procedure before.
The bone graft applied during spinal fusion surgery causes the bones in the spine to fuse together over a period of time. This fusion aims to stop movement between the vertebrae, providing long-term stability within the spine.
Spinal fusion has just a 2-3% risk of complications; however, as with any other surgical procedure, problems do occasionally arise once the operation is complete. If you’re thinking of undergoing spinal fusion surgery for your scoliosis and would like to know more about possible long-term side effects, here are some of the things you may potentially experience.
Failed Back Surgery Syndrome (FBSS)
One of the most common problems encountered after spinal fusion surgery – or any type of surgery involving the back – is failed back surgery syndrome. This is a misnomer; FBSS is not actually a ‘syndrome’ but a very generalised term that is often used to describe the condition of patients who have not had a successful result with spinal or back surgery and have experienced continued pain post-surgery.
Surgeons are not able to physically ‘cut out’ the pain felt by patients. They are only able to alter the patient’s anatomy. In most cases, the number one reason why back and spinal surgeries are not effective (and have to be repeated) is because the area that was operated on was not actually the cause of the patient’s pain.
Pseudarthrosis of the spine can result from a failed spinal fusion and may occur at any place where spinal fusion was attempted. It presents itself as either a pain in the neck or back (axial) area or radical (arm and leg) pain that occurs months or years after a previous spinal fusion.
During spinal fusion surgery, if the bones do not fuse together properly through the bone graft, then motion may continue across that area. For some individuals, the motion can cause pain similar to that of a broken bone that never heals.
Patients with metabolic disorders such as diabetes are at increased risk for the development of pseudarthrosis. Smoking is a common risk factor. Some surgeons may even refuse to operate on smokers as it poses such a great risk for failed fusion. Other factors of failure include obesity, chronic steroid use, osteoporosis and malnutrition.
The choice and use of fusion material, number of fusion levels, surgical technique and instrumentation have also all been shown to influence the rate of success and impact quality of life after spinal fusion.
Infection is another problem that can sometimes occur after spinal fusion surgery. Infections can be classified by the anatomical location involved: either the vertebral column, the spinal canal, intervertebral disc space or the adjacent soft tissues. Infection may occur as a result of bacteria or fungal organisms; most post-surgery infections occur between three days and three months after the operation.
Vertebral osteomyelitis is the most common form of spinal infection, developing from direct open spinal trauma, infections in surrounding areas, and from bacteria that spreads from the blood to the vertebrae.
Other common problems that can occur as a result of spinal fusion surgery are:
- Anaesthetic complications
- Paralysis (very rare)
Alternatives to spinal fusion surgery
Here at Scoliosis SOS, we have had success in treating patients who have been diagnosed with severe scoliosis (40-50 degrees and over) with our non-surgical, exercise-based ScolioGold programme. If you’re worried about some of the potential long-term side effects of spinal fusion surgery, and you’d like to try non-surgical treatment first, be sure to get in touch with us.
Spinal fusion recovery
If, however, you have already undergone surgery but are still experiencing some pain, our physical therapy programme can still help you.
How We Can Help with Spinal Fusion Recovery >
Last night (10 April 2019), 18-year-old Chloe Donhou from Essex underwent spinal fusion surgery to correct her 60+ degree scoliosis. This wouldn’t normally be headline news – scoliosis affects approximately 3% of the population, and countless spinal fusion procedures are carried out worldwide each year – but Chloe’s operation was noteworthy because it was televised.
Channel 5’s Operation Live is a groundbreaking television series that’s exactly what its title suggests: live TV broadcasts of surgical operations, interspersed with commentary from the medical professionals involved. At the centre of last night’s instalment was Chloe, who has spent much of the last 18 years in pain as a result of her spinal curvature.
Speaking to the Express ahead of her operation, Chloe said: “This is something I’ve been waiting for my whole life. It’s finally happened. It’s the little things people don’t understand…if I go bowling with friends, I’ll be in agony the next day.”
Chloe’s spinal fusion procedure was carried out by the orthopaedic team at The Royal London Hospital, and watched by viewers all over the UK.
Read some of the reactions to Chloe’s spinal fusion surgery on Twitter >
Is spinal fusion surgery the only answer for people with scoliosis?
Here at the Scoliosis SOS Clinic, we provide exercise-based physical therapy that helps people with scoliosis to live better lives. We quite frequently hear from individuals who are looking for alternatives to spinal fusion surgery – as effective as the operation is, there’s always a risk associated with any surgical procedure, and many scoliosis patients prefer not to go through with it.
Over the last 12-13 years, we have helped many people with scoliosis to improve their condition and avoid spinal fusion surgery. Our internationally-renowned ScolioGold treatment method has proven capable of:
If you would like to find out more about the Scoliosis SOS Clinic and the treatment we provide, please telephone 0207 488 4428 or fill out our online enquiry form.
- Reducing pain
- Making spinal curves smaller
- Improving muscle balance and flexibility
- Boosting overall quality of life
Before & After X-Rays > Book a Consultation >
While scoliosis cannot truly be ‘cured’, there are a number of ways to treat the symptoms of this condition and reverse the progression of the Cobb angle. Scoliosis correction is always dependent on the severity of each case; for some patients, surgery may be the only option, but in most cases, non-surgical treatment methods can be highly effective.
In either case, the main aim of any scoliosis correction effort should be to improve the quality of life for the patient.
Scoliosis Correction Surgery
If the patient’s Cobb angle is greater than 40-50 degrees, surgery will likely be recommended. In especially severe cases, this may be the only way to stop the condition from worsening.
Spinal fusion surgery corrects scoliosis by anchoring the spine to a series of rods. These rods act as a splint, which holds the spine in place and reduces the angle of the problematic curve. Once this has been done, a bone graft (sometimes real, sometimes synthetic) is used to fuse it with the spine, hopefully preventing the curve from progressing any further.
If you want to learn more about the actual surgery process, you can read all about it here.
Scoliosis Correction Treatments
Although spinal fusion is generally a safe procedure with proven benefits, there are always risks associated with any surgical procedure. As a result, many scoliosis sufferers choose not to undergo surgery, and that’s why we offer a range of non-invasive treatments for scoliosis correction.
The ScolioGold Method
Our ScolioGold method is made up of a combination of well-established scoliosis treatments, including the Schroth method. These non-surgical techniques are scientifically proven, and used together, they ensure that each and every aspect of the patient’s condition is treated. Our personalised treatment programme can help reduce your Cobb angle, relieve pain and lessen the appearance of the curve, which can boost self-esteem and body image. In order to effectively improve scoliosis symptoms, we assess each individual case and create the treatment plan around the patient’s specific needs.
To learn more about the various treatments that make up the ScolioGold method, please click here.
We have successfully reduced our patient’s Cobb angles, which improves posture and overall quality of life. We do this without any invasive surgical procedures, so if you are worried about the risks of surgery for any reason, we are happy to help. To have a look at the results of our ScolioGold treatment, view our before and after pictures.
Here at Scoliosis SOS, we assess every patient’s condition and create a plan tailored to help improve their individual symptoms. To find out more about what we can do to help correct scoliosis, please contact us today.