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.