Scoliosis is an abnormal sideways curvature of the spine (backbone). A curvature of 10-25 degrees is considered a mild case, while severe scoliosis cases can feature spinal curvatures greater than 40 degrees.
Signs of scoliosis include:
- A visibly curved spine
- Back pain (more common in adults)
- A ribcage that juts forward on one side
- A noticeably more prominent shoulder blade
- Unevenness in the shoulders or waist, or a hip that sits higher than the other
What Is Scoliosis Surgery?
Most people with mild scoliosis are able to live normal lives and can do most activities, including exercise and playing sports. However, if your curvature is severe, you may need scoliosis surgery.
A scoliosis operation is essentially a spinal fusion. During the operation, curved vertebrae are realigned and fused together into one solid bone. To promote fusion, small pieces of bone are placed into spaces between vertebrae. In most cases, metal rods are used to hold the spine in place until fusion happens. These rods may be attached to the spine by screws, hooks, or wires.
A typical fusion takes four to six hours. The length of the operation will depend on the degree of curvature in the spine and how much of the spine needs to be fused.
Scoliosis Surgery Risks
Scoliosis surgery is a major procedure, so it’s important to be aware of the possible risks and complications involved, including:
- Nerve damage
- Blood loss
- Bowel or bladder problems
- Loss of proper spinal balance
- Failure of the bones to properly heal and fuse (pseudoarthrosis)
- Instrumentation failure and vertebral degeneration next to the fused section
Of course, each case is individual and you should always consult with your doctor for a complete list of warnings, precautions, adverse effects, and other important medical information.
Scoliosis Surgery Recovery: What to Expect
Wondering when things will get back to normal after your scoliosis surgery? While every patient is different, here’s a rough idea of what you can look forward to after your procedure.
You’ll likely spend a few days in the hospital after surgery and then spend an additional four to six weeks recovering at home. Most patients can ease back into their normal routine somewhere between two and six months after their surgery, with full recovery taking about a year.
- Months 1-6: Avoid strenuous physical activity. This means no heavy lifting, no running, and no jumping.
- Months 6-8: After six months your doctor will perform a physical examination and take x-rays. If the surgeon decides that you’re healing well, more activity, such as swimming, will be allowed.
- Months 8-10: About eight months after surgery you can begin closed chain kinetic exercises. A closed chain kinetic exercise is an exercise where the foot is planted or fixed in place as the lower limb moves during exercise. An example is bicycling, where the foot is on a pedal as the lower limb rotates.
- Months 10-12: Running, jumping and solo sports are allowed.
You shouldn’t engage in too much activity while your spine is fusing. Your surgeon will detail any limitations you have after surgery. Most patients will be asked to avoid heavy lifting and to minimize the amount of bending forward they do for the first six weeks.
Three months after surgery your orthopedist will probably allow you to become more active and start doing some moderate exercise again. This might include a program of physical therapy to help strengthen your back muscles and improve flexibility where possible.
Help Yourself Make a Full Recovery
Idiopathic scoliosis (scoliosis without a known cause) is typically identified in teenagers and young adults, and these patients usually recover well after surgery. But there are two factors that can impede a full recovery:
- Smoking: Nicotine acts as a bone toxin, inhibiting bone growth. If you smoke, use nicotine replacement devices, or take in secondhand smoke, you are increasing your risk of spinal fusion surgery failure.
- Obesity: Studies have shown that obese patients have more complications during and after surgery compared with the rest of the population.
An expert spinal team for scoliosis surgery
For conditions of the spine and back, the orthopedic specialists at Town Center Orthopaedics provide a comprehensive, patient-centered approach to care that helps restore function from conditions like scoliosis. Our goal is to get you back to your favorite activities in as little time as possible.
To schedule your evaluation with a spine specialist, call Town Center Orthopaedics at (571) 250-5435 or request an appointment online.