The Truth About Scoliosis Fusion Surgery
When scoliosis curves are severe, many doctors recommend surgery. But emerging research has led many patients to wonder if spinal fusion surgery is really the best choice.
2-3% of the U.S. population has scoliosis — that's 7 million people! In 80% of cases, the cause of scoliosis is unknown.
The infographic below includes statistics on scoliosis fusion surgery, including potential complications, risks, and alternatives.
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Who's Affected Most?
Scoliosis most often occurs between ages 10-15.
It affects 7 girls for every 1 boy.
What Doctors Typically Recommend
- 0-10˚ - No scoliosis detected
- 10-25˚ - Regular observation
- 25-40˚ - Bracing
- 50+˚ - Spinal fusion surgery
5-10% of diagnosed scoliosis cases will progress to the surgical threshold.
38,000 patients undergo spinal fusion surgery every year.
What Does Spinal Fusion Entail?
- The surgeon dissects 5 layers of spinal muscles, surrounding ligaments and tendons, and the spine's entire posterior joint system
- 3-inch screws and hooks are inserted on both sides of the spine at every level
- Solid metal rods are run through the hooks on both sides of the spine along the entire length of the curve
Complications of Spinal Fusion Surgery
More than 50% of spinal fusion patients experience long-term complications during their life span.
In one study, 40% of patients were considered severely disabled less than 20 years following fusion surgery.
- Peripheral nerve deficit
Spinal fusion implants can:
- Pierce the spinal canal
- Compress nerve roots
More than 50% of treated patients experience implant failure.
In one study:
- 21% of adolescent patients required implant removal
- 22% of patients required a total of 28 additional operations
- 5-10% of patients develop deep infections a year or more after surgery
- Some patients develop infections as many as 8 years later.
Loss of Motion
Surgical patients lose 20-60% of their ability to side flex.
Low Back Pain
20-33% of patients experience low back pain within 5-7 years.
Other Spinal Surgery Risks
- Gastrointestinal bleeding
- Kidney failure
- Recurrent meningitis
- Chronic intermittent vomiting
- Emotional breakdown
- Severe blood loss
- Urinary infections
- Obstructive bowel dysfunction
Does Spinal Fusion Work?
An analysis of scoliosis surgery patients found that:
- 41% felt no reduction in their pain levels
- 33% lost all correction within 1-10 years
- 19% required more surgery within 2-8 years
- 26% were unhappy with the outcome
Alternatives to Scoliosis Surgery
A combination of aerobic fitness, weight training and core strengthening can help treat the symptoms of scoliosis, but does not reduce curvature.
Scoliosis indicates a breakdown in the brain's ability to regulate posture. Certain exercises can retrain the brain to maintain a more normal posture. 90% of patients who perform exercises wearing a ScoliSMART ScoliSMART™ Activity Suit reduce or stabilize their spinal curves within a year.
European studies have linked scoliosis to hormone imbalances. Amino acid supplements can help boost treatment effectiveness.