As an incurable, progressive spinal condition, scoliosis needs to be treated proactively, and while traditional treatment funnels patients towards spinal fusion, conservative treatment offers a non-surgical treatment option with proven results.
Scoliosis back surgery (spinal fusion) involves fusing the most-tilted vertebrae of a scoliotic curve into one solid bone to eliminate movement (progression) in the fused section of the spine. It’s a costly and invasive procedure, and most cases of scoliosis can be treated non-surgically.
While scoliosis is incurable, it is highly treatable, so let’s start our exploration of scoliosis back surgery by discussing the two main scoliosis treatment approaches.
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As mentioned, there are two main scoliosis treatment approaches for patients, and their families, to choose between.
Once a condition is diagnosed, the way it’s responded to is the most important decision to make moving forward because each approach has its own end goal and offers patients a different potential outcome.
I want patients, and their families, to be aware of all treatment options available to them because, too often, patients are presented with spinal fusion surgery as the best or only treatment option. Patients need to ensure their treatment expectations are aligned with what the chosen treatment approach can deliver.
While the traditional surgical approach to treating scoliosis has been in place for many years, there is also a modern conservative approach that offers patients a non-surgical treatment option.
Conservative treatment is also known as functional or chiropractic-centered because it strives to preserve as much of the spine’s natural function as possible and impacts the condition on a structural level for corrective results.
Here at the Scoliosis Reduction Center, I believe that as a progressive condition whose nature is to worsen over time, a proactive response is best by working towards counteracting the progressive nature of scoliosis.
By applying treatment as close to the time of diagnosis as possible is how I monitor for and manage progression; I closely observe how a patient’s spine is responding to growth and treatment and adjust treatment plans accordingly.
As a progressive condition, where a scoliosis is at the time of diagnosis is not indicative of where it will stay. Scoliosis diagnosed as mild can easily progress to moderate, severe, or very severe unless proactive treatment efforts are successful at staying ahead of a condition’s progressive line.
While there are no treatment guarantees, there are fewer limits to what we can achieve when scoliosis is treated at its mildest: when the curve is smallest, is at its most flexible, making it more responsive to treatment, and before the body has had time to adjust to the unnatural curve’s presence.
A conservative treatment plan would integrate multiple forms of condition-specific treatment, so conditions are impacted on every level: chiropractic care, in-office therapy, custom-prescribed home exercises, and corrective bracing.
Through manual adjustments, I can work towards realigning the spine by modifying the position of the most-tilted vertebrae at the apex of the curve.
Through in-office therapy, I can help patients increase their core strength so the muscles surrounding the spine can provide it with optimal support.
Corrective bracing, like the ScoliBrace, can complement other forms of treatment by pushing the spine into a corrective position, and is particularly effective with growing spines.
As the ScoliBrace features a modern and dynamic design, it represents the culmination of what we’ve learned about the condition and bracing efficacy over the years.
Scoliosis-specific exercises and a home-rehabilitation program can augment corrective results by further stabilizing the spine for sustainable long-term results.
In addition, certain scoliosis-specific exercises can activate specific areas of the brain for improved brain-body communication, postural remodeling, and improved body positioning.
Conservative treatment offers an effective non-surgical treatment alternative to scoliosis back surgery.
A traditional treatment approach tends to funnel patients towards spinal fusion because its response is more reactive than proactive.
A traditional treatment response to a diagnosis of mild scoliosis is typically to watch and wait: monitoring for further progression.
The issue with watching and waiting is that it can mean allowing a scoliotic curve to progress unimpeded, which puts patients at risk for increasing condition severity, escalating symptoms, and the need for more invasive treatment (surgery) in the future.
Depending on the individual treatment provider, an adolescent idiopathic scoliosis patient, for example, diagnosed with mild scoliosis, is commonly told to return for periodic assessments to monitor for progression every 3, 6, or even 12 months.
While the idiopathic designation means we don’t fully understand why the scoliosis developed initially, we know what its main trigger for progression is: growth and development.
While young patients undergoing traditional treatment are merely watching and waiting for their scoliosis to progress, they are already at risk for rapid-phase progression because of the stage of growth and development they are entering into, puberty.
Instead of applying treatment while the condition is still mild and has a chance of being kept that way, traditional treatment chooses to wait until a condition progresses to moderate or severe before applying any form of treatment: bracing.
Traditional bracing, like the Boston brace, is associated with a number of shortfalls:
Put simply, traditional treatment doesn’t include treatment while scoliosis is mild because it doesn’t have a strategy for treating scoliosis proactively; it only knows how to respond with surgery once a condition is considered severe, which is why it simply waits for patients to progress past the surgical-level threshold at 40+ degrees.
What is Scoliosis Back Surgery?
Scoliosis back surgery is also known as spinal fusion.
As all surgeries come with their share of risks, spinal fusion is no exception, and while the end goal of a conservative treatment approach is correction, a traditional approach prioritizes stopping progression overcorrection.
Spinal fusion surgery involves fusing the most tilted vertebrae at the apex of the unnatural spinal curve into one solid bone; by doing this, movement in the area is eliminated, making it harder for the curve to progress.
Although there are different types of scoliosis back surgery, most often, once the bones are fused, rods are attached to the spine with screws to hold it in place throughout the fusion/healing process, and those rods are permanent.
If the fusion or hardware fails, the only recourse is more surgery and facing the associated risks all over again.
In addition to the invasive nature of the procedure, scoliosis back surgery cost can be high, and while there are a number of factors (surgeon fees, surgery location, recovery time spent in hospital, surgery length, condition severity, patient age, etc.) that can make the cost fluctuate, the average cost of spinal fusion in the United States is $126,000.
It’s also important to remember that there is a non-monetary cost of the procedure, and what patients are most disappointed with post-surgery is their loss in spinal flexibility and range of motion.
In addition, a fused spine is more vulnerable to injury, sometimes causing activity restrictions and making patients more hesitant to try new things or partake in once-loved physical activities.
The number-one reason that patients opt for spinal fusion is cosmetic, and while spinal fusion, when successful, can make a crooked spine straight, because it’s not achieving corrective results and is rather holding the spine in place unnaturally, fully returning the body to its pre-scoliosis state is beyond its scope.
Scoliosis back surgery involves spinal fusion that is a lengthy, costly, and risky procedure during which the curve’s most-tilted vertebrae are fused together into one solid bone; this eliminates movement in the area and, when successful, prevents further progression.
It is important, however, to understand that there’s a big difference between treatment that strives to correct scoliosis versus treatment that focuses on preventing the condition from getting worse.
While a conservative chiropractic-centered treatment approach responds proactively to a diagnosis by starting multiple forms of treatment as soon as possible, traditional treatment most often watches and waits until a patient progresses into the moderate and severe stage, approaching the surgical-level threshold.
The reality is that most cases of scoliosis can be treated non-surgically, particularly those that are caught early and responded to with proactive conservative treatment combining chiropractic care, in-office therapy, custom-prescribed exercises, and corrective bracing.
Here at the Center, treatment focuses on managing progression by impacting the condition structurally for corrective results, so the spine’s overall strength and function are preserved throughout treatment and beyond.