In many mild cases of scoliosis (i.e. where the patient's spinal curve is unlikely to progress to an extent that will cause major changes in their appearance or respiratory health), spinal fusion surgery will not be recommended. For those with a severe curve (45-50 degrees or more), surgery is usually recommended - particularly if the patient is a child, as their scoliosis will likely increase as they grow. Scoliosis surgery is also recommended to those whose curves have progressed rapidly over a period of monitoring their condition, as it can prevent further progression and health complications.
While spinal fusion surgery is an effective treatment for some patients - and may be the only viable option for those with severe scoliosis - it is important to consider your full range of options before undergoing this procedure. You should also take time to consider any possible risks or complications of undergoing scoliosis surgery, as is advised before any major operation.
Risks to consider before undergoing spinal fusion surgery
- Back Pain - In some cases, patients will continue to experience back pain even after undergoing spinal fusion surgery, due to what is sometimes referred to as 'failed back surgery syndrome'. While the surgery itself may have been a success, this does not necessarily mean that the patient will experience a full resolution of their pre-op symptoms.
- Failure of Fusion - This occurs when the bone grafts used to complete the operation fail to fuse into solid bone, which can be caused by excessive movement, poor placement of screws and rods, or even the use of anti-inflammatory medication. This can sometimes lead to failure of implants, which can cause breaks, pullouts and chronic pain. If there is no pain and the curve seems to be stable, a broken rod may not be removed.
- Neurological Complications - Some complaints which may occur soon after surgery include a loss of skin sensation, loss of strength in feet and legs, loss of bowel and bladder control, and in very severe cases, paralysis. These changes can be temporary or permanent and only occur in a very small number of cases, particularly in their most serious form.
The paper Neurological complications in adult spinal deformity surgery states: "Surgery of the lumbar spine for ASD has a neurologic complication rate between 0.5 and 17% and is dependent upon approach (anterior, lateral, or posterior), number of fusion levels [and] case complexity."
This means that the more severe or complex your scoliosis curvature is, the higher the chance that you will experience some neurological complications following spinal fusion surgery.
Other possible surgery risks include:
- Self-image (due to scarring)
- Limited range of motion/flexibility
Is it possible to avoid these risks and complications?
If you are particularly concerned about the potential risks and limitations posed by surgery, it may be possible to eliminate the need for this procedure by reducing your spinal curvature through non-surgical techniques. Here at the Scoliosis SOS Clinic, we have treated a huge number of spinal surgery candidates who came to us in an effort to avoid spinal fusion.
Using our ScolioGold treatment programme (which combines a selection of established non-surgical techniques), we have managed to not only reduce the Cobb angle of our patients, but also provide them with a lasting method to manage the symptoms of their scoliosis.
Post-spinal fusion surgery
We also treat many patients who have already undergone spinal fusion surgery and are seeking help to recover from the procedure more quickly. For many of our post-op patients, the primary complaint is the level of pain experienced after surgery, which can be successfully reduced using our therapeutic techniques. Another key issue for post-surgery patients is mobility, which can also be improved with the guidance and supervision of our experienced physiotherapists.
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