Does surgery for scoliosis work?

This is a very controversial question. Any orthopedic surgeon will say that yes, of course it does – on the average.

But in fact the research literature seems to be undecided on the point. It is a well-known fact that the degrees of the fused spine continue to increase after surgery such that after some years the fused patient may need yet another surgery. It is also well-know that the doctors cannot guarantee any reduction in pain after surgery. And a large percentage of surgeries require follow-up surgery after some years to treat problematic side-effects.

However, some patients need surgery for life-threatening reasons (pressure on heart, lungs, etc.) and for these patients there is no doubt that the surgery obviously helps.

But there are a lot of other scoliosis patients in a grey zone where it really hasn’t yet been proven whether surgery for them is a good option or not.

If you speak to orthopedic surgeons these days (2016) they will freely admit that operations carried out 20-30 years ago with Harrington rods, etc. were not good at all. The outcome was often not good and a majority of these patients have had to leave the job market for early retirement due to pains. Many of them have needed follow-up surgery later on. The surgeons admit this but they then also claim that surgical methods have improved much since the 80s and 90s. But is uncertain how much they have improved, it is uncertain whether new problems have been introduced with new methods – and it is uncertain whether surgeons will say the same in 20 years (that surgery around 2016) really wasn’t very good.

In her famous (or infamous) book “Scoliosis and the Human Spine”, Martha C. Hawes has analyzed all available research literature studying and documenting the outcome of surgery. She finds out that the long-term results of spinal surgery are in fact not well documented and that there are many problems with side effects and poor results. So in reality spinal surgery is a scientifically undocumented treatment for scoliosis.

This page also discussed the results of Dr. Hawes and how it relates to exercises and other alternative treatments.

And this page provides a deeper analysis of the conflict of interest of many orthopedic surgeons whose earnings are tied to how many surgeries they carry out, carry out research in new surgical techniques, etc.

So what does all of this mean for the individual scoliosis patient? To me it means that any recommendation from an orthopedic surgeon should be taken with a grain of salt. The only treatment known and recommended by the surgeon is surgery, so they basically only have three options to recommend: (1) wait and do nothing, (2) brace treatment, and (3) surgery. The typical surgeon does not believe that exercise can work as it is a “scientifically undocumented” treatment method (just like surgery) therefore they will recommend doing nothing to those patients not yet sufficiently severe to warrant surgery.

Many (if not most or all of) surgeons are very conscientious and truly wants the best for their patients. So they inform them of side effects, that there are no guarantees of pain reduction, etc. but it is my belief that they are slightly “brain washed” or “indoctrinated” by their education, colleagues, vendors of surgical equipment, research literature, etc. to believe that surgical treatment is the only option for some patients – where in fact Scroth, Scoliosis SOS, Clear Institute, yoga/pilates teachers, SEAS, MedX, etc., etc. are making progress these years on developing and documenting efficient alternative treatments for scoliosis.

My wife (who has scoliosis) is strongly against surgery, unless it is needed for life-threatening reasons. She is constantly investigating new options for alternative treatments and has tried yoga, Schroth and several other treatments over the years. Unfortunately we are based in a location where we don’t have easy access to Scoliosis SOS, SEAS, MedX, etc. – otherwise these would also be on our list.

We also have two daughters (now 9 and 12) who could potentially get scoliosis. So far no sign of it – luckily. But if they start developing an S-curve, we’ll certainly explore alternative treatments first, before ever considering surgery.


One thought on “Does surgery for scoliosis work?

  1. My daughter is 4yrs old she has scoliosis, her curvature increased from 19 degrees to 60 degrees in 6 months. My surgeon was so shocked that i took the soft copies of the films to another orthopedic surgeon to confirm the findings. She currently needs surgery and we are fundraising for that to happen. I was touched by the number of kids affected and lacked funds to even afford a brace in Kenya. Our heathcare is not that advanced and our orthopaedic surgeons lacks the means to assist poor kids. I think i will start working with charities for people to donate their used outgrown braces to help out kids in Africa who are unable to afford them. I dont know how i will start but i will give it a try. I doesnt matter if i will personally pay for their customs, i will create a network with orthopedic surgeons to assist those in need or use facebook. I feel for them and i think they need us to try and help

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