What is Spinal Fusion for Scoliosis?

Melanie Smeltzer

Spinal fusion for scoliosis is a surgical procedure performed to correct an abnormal curvature of the spine. During this procedure, metal implants are attached to curved portions of the spine, then covered with bone fragments that will eventually fuse together and cause the spine to become straight. This surgery is typically performed on children and teenagers, but may also be done on adults, and is often performed to help correct or stop the progress of the deformity and alleviate any associated pain.

Spinal fusion may be performed to treat scoliosis, a curvature of the spine.
Spinal fusion may be performed to treat scoliosis, a curvature of the spine.

The process of spinal fusion for scoliosis is sometimes compared to welding. Wires, rods, hooks, or screws are attached to the curved section of the spine to help straighten the curvature. The joints of the vertebrae are removed, and the vertebrae are lightly sanded to encourage new bone growth. Once this is done, a bone graft harvested from a hip, rib, separate part of the spine, or cadaver is placed around the vertebrae and metal implants to further encourage growth of bone tissue. Over time, new bone will grow and eventually weld the vertebrae into a straight, solid piece.

There are many techniques that may be used for spinal fusion for scoliosis. Many surgeries are done posteriorly, or from the back, while others may be done anteriorly, or from the front. For those with a severe curvature, an anterior-posterior fusion may be performed. If a patient has only a single curve, it will be approached from the front and back, but if there is a second curve present, the remainder of the operation will only be performed posteriorly.

Another option for spinal fusion for scoliosis is video-assisted thoracoscopic surgery (VATS). During this procedure, one lung is collapsed so that video monitoring devices, cameras, and scopes may be placed into a small incision in the chest. This operation is considered less invasive and is said to leave less obvious scars.

Operating time for spinal fusion for scoliosis usually takes four to six hours, but it can take up to one year for the spine to become completely fused. As this is a major surgery, some complications may arise. For example, bleeding and blood clots may occur after surgery, as may infection and pain at the graft site. Sometimes patients may experience pseudarthrosis, a condition that inhibits the formation of new bone growth and may result in the patient needing further surgery.

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