A scoliosis surgeon specializes in treating scoliosis, a spinal condition where the spine has an abnormal degree of curvature. Surgery for scoliosis is complex and can take six hours or more, depending on the patient's case and the level of experience on the part of the surgical team. Seeing a specialist who focuses on scoliosis care can increase the chances of a positive surgical outcome and provide people with options to treatments other care providers may not be as familiar with.
To become a scoliosis surgeon, people complete medical school and a residency in orthopedic surgery or neurosurgery, focusing on spinal surgery rather than procedures involving the brain. After residency, a fellowship can be undertaken with a surgeon who treats scoliosis patients. The physician usually belongs to a professional organization of spinal surgeons and pursues continuing education opportunities to learn about new treatment options and surgical techniques.
Patients are referred to a scoliosis surgeon when the degree of curvature has progressed to the point where it cannot be corrected with the use of conservative treatment options like braces. The surgeon will look at the patient's X-rays, perform a physical exam, and develop a plan for surgery. Sometimes the spine can be accessed entirely through the back, while in other cases, a scoliosis surgeon may have to go in through the side or front of the body. Planning ahead will help reduce the amount of time under anesthesia.
Treatment usually involves fusion to stop vertebrae from shifting out of position, with rods to stabilize them. One challenge for a scoliosis surgeon is that this procedure is often performed on children. If the spine's growth is frozen, it can result in height abnormalities and may also interfere with normal skeletal development. Some surgeons use approaches like implanting “growing rods” to allow the spine to grow while still preventing further curvature and pulling the spine into alignment. These rods are primarily used in very young patients, and are periodically adjusted as the patient grows.
After scoliosis surgery, patients will spend months on restricted physical activity to reduce the risk of complications. Follow-up appointments will be needed to see how effective the surgery was after the inflammation from the surgery went down and the spine had a chance to recover. Ideally, the curvature will be addressed, although not completely corrected, and the patient will enjoy a greater degree of comfort and a straighter posture.