Scoliosis surgery newspaper headlines

Earlier this week, Channel 4 aired a documentary called Save My Child. It focused on two young people with lifelong health conditions and their families' efforts to raise the funds for private treatment.

One of the children featured was Mia, a 15-year-old girl with scoliosis. Here's a clip from the programme:

Mia's curved spine, along with the scoliosis brace that she had to wear for 23 hours a day, meant that she was in near-constant pain. At the start of Save My Child, we see Mia lying awake at night and struggling with everyday tasks like tying her shoelaces.

Frustrated with the long waiting lists for spinal fusion surgery - and fearing that Mia's condition would only get worse with time - her family started researching alternatives. Eventually, they decided to travel to Turkey so that Mia could undergo vertebral body tethering (VBT) surgery.

The Channel 4 programme primarily focused on how Mia's family managed to raise tens of thousands of pounds to pay for private surgery. What it didn't do was take a critical look at the VBT procedure itself and how effective it actually is.

 

Is VBT a good alternative to spinal fusion surgery?

First of all, it's important to note that VBT is a rather controversial topic here in the UK. It was the subject of much discussion at the recent British Scoliosis Society conference in Cardiff - many British families go abroad for VBT, with Germany and Turkey the most popular destinations, but in many cases there are no formal standards in place for this procedure. And if complications occur back home, the NHS must then pick up the cost of fixing an operation that was paid for privately in a different country!

Fortunately, the outcome for Mia was a positive one ("I'm a lot happier now," she told Channel 4), but here at the Scoliosis SOS Clinic, we've met a number of scoliosis patients who weren't so lucky. One family came to see us after their daughter had undergone the VBT procedure in Turkey - they were concerned that she didn't look any different, and in the end they signed her up for a ScolioGold treatment course, an option they had previously passed up in favour of the VBT route.

 

Potential complications of VBT

If you need another reason to think twice before going abroad for VBT surgery, we have met multiple scoliosis patients who ended up suffering from pleurisy after the procedure. This is a sharp pain in the chest that occurs when you take a deep breath.

Still other patients found that the tethering had been done on the wrong side of the spine, making their scoliosis worse and creating nerve complications.

Finally, it should be noted that the death rate for VBT is 3%. This is significantly higher than spinal fusion surgery.

 

A safer alternative to spinal fusion

While vertebral body tethering may become a more viable option in the future, there simply isn't enough evidence of its effectiveness just yet (this is the main reason why VBT isn't currently available on the NHS).

The Scoliosis SOS Clinic's physiotherapy-based scoliosis treatment courses offer a non-invasive, low-risk alternative to scoliosis surgery. We have helped patients of all ages to manage their severe spinal curves and live happier, more active lives. On many occasions, our treatment programme has reduced the angle of the patient's curvature to a point where they're no longer a candidate for surgery at all!

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Scoliosis Surgery Headlines

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:

  • Reducing pain
  • Making spinal curves smaller
  • Improving muscle balance and flexibility
  • Boosting overall quality of life

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.

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Harrington rods for scoliosis

If you suffer from scoliosis, you will probably have looked into the various treatment options for this condition. Today, we're going to look at the pros and cons of one specific treatment method: spinal fusion surgery using Harrington rods.

What are Harrington rods?

Developed in the early 1960s by Dr Paul Harrington, the Harrington rod is a straight rod that contains a ratcheting mechanism. These rods are used in spinal fusion surgery to reduce the curvature of the patient's spine.

The rod is positioned along the concavity (inside) of the spinal curve and attached to the spine using two hooks - one attached to a vertebra at the bottom of the curve and the other to a vertebra at top of the curve. Then, employing the ratcheting mechanism, the surgeon stretches the spine to straighten the curve and fuses into position.

Do Harrington rods help to correct scoliosis?

For 20 years, Harrington rods were seen at the 'gold standard' for spinal fusion surgery - if you underwent spinal fusion surgery before the year 2000, the surgeon most likely used Harrington rods. This procedure was routinely recommended for any patients with a spinal curve exceeding 45 degrees.

These days, however, there are a number of alternatives for scoliosis patients who require surgery. You can read about these more modern methods here.

Harrington rods have been successful in many cases of scoliosis, but they also come with a number of risks and limitations.

What are the risks and limitations of Harrington rods?

As with all surgical operations, there are risks involved with the procedure described above. This intrusive operation requires the surgeon to remove spinal discs and muscle so that the rod can be inserted and screwed onto the vertebrae. The spine is then bent forcefully and fused into that position. Infection is one possible complication - other potential risks include:

  • Bending and breaking of the rod
  • Hardware migration
  • Pseudoarthrosis
  • Flat back syndrome

Furthermore, this surgery is not recommended for patients whose spines are still growing. Performing a spinal fusion on a growing child can lead to a number of complications, such as the Crankshaft phenomenon. As young spines continue to grow there is a chance the spinal curve will also change, which may mean the rod will end up causing further complications.

What are the alternatives to surgery?

In some very severe cases, surgery is the only way to ensure that a spinal curve will not get any worse. In most cases, however, there are plenty of other scoliosis treatment methods available that do not involve intrusive, potentially risky surgical procedures.

Here at the Scoliosis SOS Clinic, we offer a non-surgical scoliosis treatment programme called ScolioGold therapy, which combines a number of effective techniques to improve patient's condition. To see how effective non-surgical treatments can be, have a look at our results and see how we have reduced our patients' Cobb angles without surgical intervention.

If you have any more questions about scoliosis surgery and how our non-surgical approach can help you with your back condition, please get in touch today.

Exercise after Scoliosis Surgery

In a particularly severe case of scoliosis, surgery may be the only way to prevent the patient's spinal curvature from continuing to get worse. Spinal fusion surgery, while generally effective, is a major operation from which it typically takes months to fully recover.

After undergoing this type of surgery, it is often necessary to make some lifestyle changes in order to minimise your recovery time. For instance, bending, lifting and twisting should all be avoided in the weeks immediately following a spinal fusion procedure, as your spine and incision will need time to heal.

Later in the recovery process, you can start to consider your regular exercise routine. Many patients who undergo scoliosis surgery are able to maintain their usual lifestyle after the operation, but changes do sometimes need to be made to reduce pressure on the spinal area.

Can you exercise after scoliosis surgery?

Yes, you can, although the more important question is how long you ought to wait before exercising again. As mentioned above, heavy lifting, bending and twisting are all strictly off-limits to begin with; indeed, intense exercise of any sort is best avoided at this point. However, low-impact exercises - such as walking and swimming - will benefit both your health and the ongoing fusion process.

Before you can return to your usual sport and exercise habits, your skin will need to heal from the incision and your bones will need to fuse together again. This can take anywhere from 6-9 months. Your surgeon will be able to tell you when you're sufficiently healed, at which point you'll hopefully be able to ease back into more physically-demanding exercises and activities.

What exercises can you do after scoliosis surgery?

As a general rule, anything that puts too much pressure on your spine is best avoided after scoliosis surgery. Heavy weightlifting, high-impact sports like rugby, and exercises that involve your abs can all damage your spine again and should be removed from your exercise regime.

Exercises that involve flexion of the spine or neck, such as sit-ups and squats, can place pressure on the discs above and below the spinal fusion site. These should also be avoided as much as possible, although they can be replaced with more gentle stretching exercises.

It is best to swap high-intensity exercise for more frequent low-impact exercise after scoliosis surgery. Recommended post-surgery activities include:

  • Swimming
  • Gentle yoga
  • Bicycle rides
  • Elliptical machine training

In this way, you can still maintain an active lifestyle without fear of damaging your vertebrae, discs or spinal cord.

Here at the Scoliosis SOS Clinic, we believe that exercise is the best method for fighting spinal curvature. We treat both patients who are looking to avoid surgery and those who have already had a spinal fusion. Our non-surgical ScolioGold treatment courses combine stretches, exercises, and massages to reduce the angle of your spinal curve and improve your quality of life. Contact us now to arrange an initial consultation.

Worried that your scoliosis will prevent you from taking part in your favourite sport? Read about some of our sporty success stories here!

Surgery is often recommended once a scoliosis patient's spinal curve has progressed beyond a certain point, and in the vast majority of cases, 'surgery' means spinal fusion surgery. This procedure involves joining two or more vertebrae together to prevent the patient's curvature from growing; nowadays, this is usually achieved by fastening small metal screws called pedicle screws to the spine, then using a bone graft to 'fuse' the vertebrae together

However, while this procedure is still the standard surgical scoliosis treatment method in most parts of the world, there are a number of risks associated with spinal fusion. Though rare, the potential complications include:

  • Screws placed in the wrong positions
  • Screws breaking or coming loose
  • Dural lesion
  • Infection
  • Various neurological, pulmonary, and vascular complications

In response to the risks sometimes associated with spinal fusion, a number of other surgical scoliosis treatments have been developed, and some of these new techniques seem to becoming increasingly popular. Today, we'd like to look at three relatively new surgical procedures and why they're potentially preferable to spinal fusion surgery.

Magnetically-controlled growing rods (MCGR)

Magnetically Controlled Growing Rods

Magnetically-controlled growing rods are already being used in more than 20 countries (including the UK and the USA) to treat scoliosis in children under the age of seven. During the MCGR procedure, the surgeon fastens titanium rods to the patient's spine; these rods have a lengthening mechanism that can be operated magnetically, and after the operation itself, the patient attends a series of minimally-invasive 'distraction' procedures where a remote controller is used to lengthen the rods and correct the spinal curvature.

This effectively puts the doctor in control of the child's scoliosis until they have finished growing.

 

Stapling and tethering

Spinal Tethering Operation

Vertebral body stapling (VBS) and vertebral body tethering (VBT) are two minimally-invasive procedures that are usually performed on scoliosis patients who are still growing (e.g. teenagers and pre-teens). VBS uses malleable metal staples to join two or more vertebrae together, while VBT uses pedicle screws attached to a flexible cable at the site of the curvature. VBS is recommended for thoracic curves of 25-35 degrees and lumbar curves under 45 degrees; VBT can be used to treat thoracic curves between 35-70 degrees.

Currently available only in the UK, the USA, India, Canada and New Zealand, the tethering and stapling procedures have no major reported complications and are generally less invasive than the more commonly-seen spinal fusion procedure.

Apifix

Apifix for Scoliosis

Apifix is a small implant that is attached to the spine using just two screws. No fusion is performed, and the procedure is not very invasive, leaving a far less visible scar than spinal fusion surgery.

Apifix Scar

This procedure is ideal for adolescents with idiopathic scoliosis, especially where the curve measures 40-60 degrees. Apifix is currently available in the USA, Israel, and across Europe.

Any surgery carries risks and complications, depending on the procedure and patient presentation. If you are looking for a non-surgical alternative to spinal fusion, please contact the Scoliosis SOS Clinic today. We use an exercise-based regime called ScolioGold to correct scoliosis without any surgical intervention whatsoever. We can also assist with recovery after undergoing scoliosis surgery.