Treating scoliosis often feels like a race against an opponent with a head start. Once curves start progressing, parents and doctors can easily get caught up in reacting to the spine’s changes without ever managing to get ahead of the curve.
Unfortunately, scoliosis treatment for kids tends revolves around a single-minded focus—preventing curve progression—without full consideration for the child’s long-term quality of life. While traditional treatments can achieve some initial curve reduction, over the course of a lifetime they can also cause significant harm. Bracing, for example, might seem like the best course of action now, when your most pressing concern is to avoid reaching the surgical threshold, but what about 25 years from now? Or 50 years?
In the pressure to make a decision, many parents don’t receive all the information they need to consider the true impact of long-term scoliosis treatment. Below is a comparison of how bracing, surgery and the ScoliSMART Activity Suit might affect your child over time.
After just a year of wearing a scoliosis brace, one 12-year-old patient’s back muscles had weakened to the point that it hurt to hold herself up. Yet most are expected to wear their brace for 16 or more hours a day over the course of several years. Over time, the stress of being trapped in rigid plastic can cause permanent changes to a growing child’s body.
What bracing doesn’t do is provide long-term curve correction. One study found that 20 years after brace removal, the majority of patients had the same curve size as when they started, while several experienced major progression. Twenty-five years after bracing, the average curve shows a 4-degree increase.
Unfortunately, the long-term effects of scoliosis bracing are mostly negative, including:
Atrophied muscles. When you’re living with scoliosis, strong back muscles are your first line of defense against curve progression and back pain. Years of bracing severely weaken the nerves and muscles surrounding the spine, potentially causing permanent damage. As the spine becomes dependent on the brace for support, it loses its ability to sustain a balanced posture. That’s why curves often progress more aggressively than before once the brace is removed.
Joint degeneration. Immobilized within a brace, the spine becomes stiff. Without proper movement, the joints lose their flexibility and often develop degenerative problems, which can limit mobility and cause pain later in life. One study found that 20 years after bracing, three in four patients were troubled by back pain, one in five had limited spinal function and 5 percent reported severe disability.
Inhibited spinal growth. Braces are worn during some of the spine’s key formative years. They purport to work by removing pressure from the inside of the curve while encouraging the opposite side to grow. But without intermittent pressure on both sides of the spine, the bones are unable to grow properly, which can permanently alter the body’s biomechanics.
Spinal Fusion Surgery
More than half of spinal fusion patients will suffer from long-term complications at some point in their life. Implants break or become dislodged, often causing damage to the spine and requiring multiple surgeries to fix. Nearly a decade after surgery, deep infections can still set in.
The curve correction, on the other hand, is anything but permanent. In fact, a third of patients who have the surgery will lose all of the benefits within 10 years. One in five will ultimately need more surgery. Other long-term complications of spinal fusion surgery include:
Lost mobility. In their attempt to correct scoliosis curves, doctors use a steel rod to fuse multiple vertebrae together, irreversibly changing the spine’s biomechanics. Once fused, the vertebrae are no longer capable of flexion, extension, rotation or lateral bending. At best, patients who undergo the surgery will experience a 20 to 60 percent loss in side flexibility. Additionally, the extra stress on adjacent vertebrae can make them increasingly unstable and prone to faster degeneration.
Permanent disability. Spinal fusion surgery is incredibly invasive and can permanently damage the spinal nerves, leaving patients with a variety of neurologic problems ranging from leg weakness to loss of bowel and bladder control to paraplegia or quadriplegia. As many as 40 percent of patients are considered severely disabled after having the surgery.
Chronic pain. One in three spinal fusion patients report back pain within 7 years of their surgery. Nerve damage, implant failure, joint degeneration and other complications can all cause chronic pain, which can severely hamper the patient’s long-term quality of life.
ScoliSMART Activity Suit
Is treating scoliosis even possible without using invasive measures that inflict disabling side effects? Many parents struggle to find a scoliosis treatment for kids that can achieve long-term curve reduction without causing permanent damage.
Fortunately, bracing and surgery aren’t the only options. The ScoliSMART Activity Suit is an exercised-based treatment program that has been shown to stabilize or improve curves in nine out of 10 patients. In fact, two in three kids who use the suit achieve a reduction in curve size. In addition to correcting curves, our long-term scoliosis treatment offers:
Increased mobility. Instead of freezing the spine into immobility, the ScoliSMART Activity Suit harnesses the body’s natural movements to build the strength and flexibility needed to support a balanced posture. The exercises work by first unlocking the spine, making the joints less rigid and the body more supple.
Improved body mechanics. Exercises performed wearing the ScoliSMART Activity Suit are designed to correct the faulty body mechanics that allow scoliosis to progress. As the posture becomes more natural, it decreases pressure on joints and relieves stress from other parts of the body that no longer have to compensate for the imbalance.
Better brain-muscle communication. As specialized exercises trigger involuntary responses in the body, they forge new communication pathways between the brain and muscles. As the motions are repeated they become programmed into muscle memory, and the spine learns to control—and reduce—its curvature naturally.
When it comes to treating scoliosis, it’s easy to develop tunnel vision. Beating curve progression is important, but it shouldn’t be the only goal. When choosing a long-term scoliosis treatment plan, it’s also critical to consider the impact on your child’s quality of life—not just now, but years down the road.