scoliosis, a condition characterized by an abnormal curvature of the spine, can pose Adolescent significant challenges for young individuals. While most cases of scoliosis can be managed through non-surgical methods, severe cases may require surgical intervention. Scoliosis surgery, also known as spinal fusion surgery, aims to correct the curvature of the spine and prevent further progression. However, like any surgical procedure, scoliosis surgery comes with risks and potential complications that parents and patients need to be aware of. In this blog, we will explore the risks involved in scoliosis surgery, alternative treatment options, and the long-term effects of surgery, to help patients make informed decisions about their health.

spinal fusion surgery

Understanding Scoliosis

Scoliosis is a condition where the spine curves to the side, forming a C or S shape. It commonly affects children and adolescents, necessitating careful monitoring and appropriate care. The curvature of the spine is often measured using a method called the Cobb angle, which helps determine the severity of the spinal curve. Scoliosis can be idiopathic, meaning it has no known cause, or it can be linked to neuromuscular, congenital, or degenerative factors. Early intervention is crucial in preventing scoliosis from worsening during adolescence, which can impact a young person’s physical and emotional well-being.

Defining Scoliosis

Scoliosis is a condition characterized by an abnormal curvature of the spine. Instead of a straight vertical alignment, the spine curves to the side, forming a noticeable curve. This curvature can take on different shapes, such as a C or an S. The severity of the spinal curve can vary, ranging from mild to severe. When scoliosis occurs in adolescents, it is referred to as adolescent idiopathic scoliosis (AIS). “Idiopathic” means that the precise cause of scoliosis is unknown. AIS is the most common type of scoliosis, typically developing during puberty when children experience growth spurts. It is important to diagnose and manage the condition promptly to prevent progression and potential complications.

Common Signs and Symptoms

Recognizing the signs and symptoms of scoliosis is essential for early intervention. Common indications include uneven shoulders, a prominent shoulder blade, or a tilted pelvis. Adolescents with scoliosis may experience back pain, fatigue, and limited physical activities. Additionally, scoliosis can affect a person’s posture, leading to an asymmetrical appearance, where one hip may appear higher than the other. Clothing may not fit properly, and there may be visible changes in the rib cage. In some cases, scoliosis can cause numbness or tingling sensations if it affects the nerves surrounding the spinal curvature. Parents should be vigilant and observe any postural changes or asymmetry in their adolescent children.

Common Signs and Symptoms

Causes and Types of Scoliosis

Scoliosis can have various causes, and understanding the underlying factors is crucial for developing an appropriate treatment plan. While the exact cause of idiopathic scoliosis, the most common type, remains unknown, research suggests a combination of genetic factors, bone formation abnormalities, and spinal development discrepancies may contribute to its development. Other types of scoliosis include neuromuscular scoliosis, which occurs due to underlying nervous system or muscular disorders, congenital scoliosis, resulting from spinal abnormalities during fetal development, and degenerative scoliosis, associated with age-related wear and tear of the spine.

Primary Causes of Scoliosis

Idiopathic scoliosis, the most prevalent type, is believed to have a complex etiology involving a combination of genetic, environmental, and hormonal factors. While specific genes have been identified, the exact mechanism of how they contribute to scoliosis remains a subject of ongoing research. Bone formation abnormalities, affecting the growth and alignment of vertebral bones, and spinal development discrepancies are also primary causes of the condition. In some cases, it may be associated with certain hereditary conditions, suggesting a genetic predisposition for spinal curvature. Understanding the underlying cause of scoliosis is crucial for tailoring a treatment approach that addresses the individual’s specific needs and challenges.

Understanding Different Types

A spine curve can manifest in different forms, each requiring specific care and treatment strategies. Idiopathic scoliosis, as mentioned earlier, is the most common type and occurs without a specific, identifiable cause. Neuromuscular scoliosis, on the other hand, is linked to underlying nervous system or muscular disorders, such as cerebral palsy or muscular dystrophy. Congenital scoliosis, resulting from spinal abnormalities during fetal development, encompasses a range of spinal deformities. Syndromic scoliosis occurs as part of a larger syndrome, such as Marfan syndrome or Ehlers-Danlos syndrome. Accurately diagnosing the type of scoliosis is crucial for developing an appropriate treatment plan that addresses the underlying cause and individual needs.

Diagnosis and Treatment Options

Once it is suspected, a thorough diagnosis is necessary to determine the severity of the spinal curve and guide treatment decisions. A physical exam, including a visual assessment of the spine, is often the first step. Imaging tests, such as X-rays and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), help evaluate the curvature and assess internal structures, such as the spinal cord. Based on the diagnosis, treatment options can be explored, ranging from non-surgical approaches, such as bracing and physical therapy, to surgical intervention, like spinal fusion surgery. A personalized treatment plan, tailored to the individual’s condition, is crucial for managing the condition effectively.

Diagnosis and Treatment Options

How Scoliosis is Diagnosed

Diagnosis involves a comprehensive evaluation by a healthcare provider with expertise in spinal conditions. The diagnostic process typically begins with a physical exam, where the provider assesses the patient’s posture, gait, and spinal alignment. If scoliosis is suspected, X-rays are commonly used to measure the curvature of the spine, using a method called the Cobb angle. In some cases, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) may be recommended to assess the spinal cord and other internal structures. Accurate diagnosis is essential for determining the severity of the spinal curvature, identifying potential complications, and guiding treatment decisions. Regular monitoring by a healthcare provider ensures timely intervention and proper management of the condition.

Non-Surgical Treatment Methods

Non-surgical treatment methods are often explored as a first-line approach for managing the condition, especially in mild to moderate cases. Spinal bracing, a common non-surgical treatment, involves wearing a specially designed brace that applies pressure to the spine, preventing further progression of the curvature. Physical therapy, including exercises targeted at strengthening the back muscles and improving posture, can also play a crucial role in case management. Additionally, pain relief methods, such as medication and physical therapy modalities, may be employed to alleviate discomfort associated with a spinal curve, particularly back pain. Non-surgical treatments aim to slow or stop the progression of the curve, relieve pain, and improve quality of life for patients.

Scoliosis Boot Camp

One emerging treatment approach for condition management is the use of Scoliosis Boot Camp, which provide a holistic and intensive treatment program for young patients. These specialized programs typically incorporate scoliosis-specific exercises, hands-on therapy, nutritional guidance, and psychological support. Here are some key components of scoliosis boot camps:

  • Posture correction exercises to improve spinal alignment
  • Strength training to enhance back muscle function
  • Flexibility exercises to increase range of motion
  • Individualized treatment plans to address specific needs
  • Scoliosis boot camps are designed to empower patients, equip them with self-management techniques, and improve overall physical function and quality of life.
scoliosis boot camp

Schedule your no-cost, no-obligation phone or Zoom consultation online with a ScoliSMART physician. Visit the ScoliSMART BootCamp page and click the “Schedule Online” button at the top of the page. Then select the best date and time to connect with a physician. Schedule your consultation right here!

Surgical Treatment Methods

In cases where the curvature is severe or rapidly progressing, surgical intervention may be necessary to correct the spinal curve. The most common surgical treatment for adolescent idiopathic scoliosis is spinal fusion surgery. This procedure involves fusing vertebrae together using bone grafts, metal rods, screws, or hooks to correct the curvature. Posterior spinal fusion surgery, performed through a small incision, allows access to the back of the spine, providing a more direct approach for correction. Other surgical treatment methods, such as anterior spinal fusion or a combination of both anterior and posterior approaches, may be considered based on individual needs. The surgical procedure aims to stabilize the curvature, prevent further progression, and improve the patient’s quality of life.

Deep Dive into Scoliosis Fusion Surgery

Scoliosis surgery, a major intervention, involves a comprehensive surgical procedure to correct the spinal curvature. The surgery is typically performed under general anesthesia in an operating room, by a specialized orthopedic surgeon. The procedure often involves making a small incision, followed by the correction of the spinal curve using pedicle screws, rods, and bone grafts obtained from a bone bank. While scoliosis surgery can be highly effective in reducing curvature and restoring alignment, it is essential to understand the risks and potential complications associated with the procedure.

The Procedure of Scoliosis Surgery

The procedure of scoliosis surgery is a complex and delicate process that requires a skilled orthopedic surgeon, a team of healthcare professionals, a sterile operating room, and general anesthesia to ensure the safety and comfort of the patient. Here is an overview of the scoliosis surgery procedure:

  • Preoperative preparation, including a physical exam, imaging, and relevant medical assessments
  • Administering general anesthesia to induce a state of unconsciousness
  • Making a small incision to access the back of the spine
  • Correcting the curvature using pedicle screws, rods, and hooks
  • Placing bone grafts obtained from a bone bank to help fuse the vertebrae together
  • Closing the incision site carefully using sutures or staples
  • Post-surgery, patients require a hospital stay for a few days to monitor their recovery, manage pain, and initiate physical therapy.

Post-Surgery Recovery Time

The recovery period following scoliosis surgery can vary based on individual factors, such as age, health, and the type of surgical procedure performed. Most patients can expect a hospital stay of a few days, during which they are closely monitored by a specialized care team. Pain medicine, both oral and intravenous, is administered to manage discomfort, while physical therapy is initiated to help patients regain strength and mobility. The surgical procedure typically involves a small incision, resulting in relatively less post-operative pain and a faster recovery compared to open surgery. Over time, patients can gradually increase their activities and return to sports activities, usually within a few months, following proper rehabilitation and guidance from their healthcare provider.

Post-Surgery Recovery Time

Risks Involved in Scoliosis Surgery

While surgery can be life-changing, it is crucial to understand and evaluate the risks involved before making a decision. As with any surgical procedure, it carries potential risks and complications. It is important for patients and their families to be fully informed about these risks to make an educated decision about treatment options. In the next section, we will explore a comprehensive list of potential risks associated with back surgery, as well as risk prevention strategies that can help minimize these risks.

Comprehensive List of Potential Risks

Like any surgical procedure, can have potential risks and complications, the likelihood of which varies from patient to patient. While the vast majority of scoliosis surgeries have successful outcomes, it is important to be aware of the potential risks involved. Here are some of the possible complications associated with surgery:

  • Complications, such as bleeding, infection, or adverse reactions to anesthesia
  • Blood loss during surgery, requiring a blood transfusion in some cases
  • Nerve damage, resulting in numbness, weakness, or pain
  • Injury to the spinal cord, which can have serious long-term consequences
  • The need for additional surgery, either due to complications or ongoing spinal curve progression
  • Potential complications related to fusion, such as a poorly aligned spine, limited flexibility, or stress on neighboring segments of the spine
  • While these risks exist, it is important to note that the vast majority of patients undergoing surgery have successful outcomes. Healthcare providers take multiple precautions to minimize these risks and ensure the safety of patients.

Risk Prevention Strategies

To minimize the risks associated with surgery, a comprehensive risk prevention protocol is implemented. This protocol involves several strategies, including:

  • Preoperative care, which includes a thorough physical exam, medical assessments, and optimization of the patient’s overall health prior to surgery
  • Administration of antibiotics before, during, and after surgery to prevent infection
  • Utilization of advanced surgical techniques, such as intraoperative navigation, to enhance the precision and safety of the procedure
  • Expertise and experience of the healthcare provider performing the surgery, ensuring a high level of skill and competence
  • Patient education, which allows individuals and their families to make informed decisions, understand the risks, and actively participate in their care plan
  • By implementing these risk prevention strategies, healthcare providers strive to minimize potential complications and ensure the best possible outcomes for patients undergoing surgery.

Long-term Effects of Scoliosis Surgery

Surgical intervention can have long-lasting effects, both physical and psychological, on adolescent patients. Understanding these effects is essential for patients and their families to have realistic expectations and make informed treatment decisions. In the following sections, we will explore the physical and cosmetic outcomes of surgery, as well as the psychological impact it can have on adolescents.

Physical and Cosmetic Outcomes

One of the primary goals of surgery is to improve physical appearance by correcting the curvature of the spine. By realigning the vertebrae and improving spinal alignment, surgery can significantly improve posture, decrease rib prominence, and reduce shoulder and hip asymmetry. Correcting the spinal curvature can also alleviate back pain and discomfort, allowing patients to engage in physical activities with greater ease. Additionally, surgery can contribute to a positive body image, enhancing patients’ self-esteem and overall well-being. While the physical and cosmetic outcomes may vary depending on the severity of the curvature, surgery has the potential to positively impact a young person’s physical appearance and quality of life.

Psychological Impact

Aside from the physical improvements, surgical intervention can have a significant psychological impact on young patients. Adolescents with scoliosis may experience lower self-esteem, body image concerns, and social challenges. By reducing the spinal curvature, surgery can improve self-esteem, enhance psychological well-being, and foster a positive body image. The surgery may enable adolescents to participate in sports activities without limitations, contributing to a sense of normalcy and a higher quality of life. It is important to note that surgery is not a cure-all for psychological challenges, and additional support, such as counseling or participation in support groups, may be beneficial for patients experiencing emotional difficulties.

Psychological Impact

Alternatives to Scoliosis Surgery

While surgical intervention is sometimes necessary, there are alternative treatment options that can be explored, especially in mild to moderate cases. For many patients, non-surgical methods can effectively manage and limit curve progression, and relieve pain. In the next sections, we will explore some of the non-surgical alternatives available, their effectiveness, and their role in patient management.

Exploring Non-Surgical Options

Non-surgical treatment options play a crucial role in case management, particularly for patients with mild to moderate curves. Some of the common non-surgical alternatives include:

  • Bracing: Wearing a specially designed brace may help slow down or halt curve progression, particularly during periods of growth.
  • Physical therapy: Targeted exercises, stretches, and strengthening routines tailored to patients can improve posture, increase flexibility, and reduce pain.
  • Traction: Controlled stretching of the spine, either manually or using a traction device, may be utilized to alleviate pain and improve spinal alignment.
  • Exercises: Highly specific exercises, such as those practiced in Scoliosis Boot Camp, can help strengthen muscles, improve posture, and reduce the curvature.
  • Pain relief: Various modalities, including heat therapy, massage, and pain-relieving medication, may be employed to alleviate discomfort associated with the condition.

Effectiveness of Alternative Treatments

The effectiveness of alternative non-surgical treatments largely depends on the individual’s condition, curve severity, and age. While surgery remains the primary intervention for severe or rapidly progressing curves, non-surgical methods can be highly effective in managing many curves, relieving pain, and improving quality of life. Bracing, in particular, has not been shown to slow down or halt curve progression in many cases. Physical therapy exercises, traction, and pain management techniques can also contribute to a reduction in pain and discomfort, improved posture, and increased spinal stability. However, it is important to note that the effectiveness of these treatments may vary, and each patient should work closely with their healthcare provider to identify the most suitable approach based on their specific needs and challenges.

Does Scoliosis Always Worsen Without Treatment?

Not all cases worsen without treatment, and the progression of scoliosis can vary significantly among individuals. While some curves may remain stable or even improve over time, others may progress. The rate of progression is influenced by various factors, including the size of the curve, age, and bone maturity. Larger curves, especially in younger patients, have a higher risk of progression compared to mild curves. Regular monitoring of scoliosis is key to tracking any changes in the spinal curve and determining the need for intervention. Monitoring typically involves periodic physical exams, X-rays, and discussions with a healthcare provider who specializes in the condition. By closely monitoring the curvature, healthcare professionals can identify any signs of progression promptly and initiate appropriate treatment if necessary. It is important for patients and their families to understand that the decision to pursue treatment, whether surgical or non-surgical, depends on the individual circumstances and should be made in consultation with a healthcare provider specialized in patient management.


In conclusion, scoliosis surgery is a complex procedure that comes with its own set of risks. While it can be an effective solution for severe cases, it’s important to weigh the potential benefits against the potential complications. It’s crucial to have a thorough understanding of the risks involved and to discuss them with your doctor before making a decision.

If you’re considering surgery, take the time to explore non-surgical options and alternative treatments. Physical therapy, bracing, and exercise programs like Scoliosis Boot Camp may offer viable alternatives for some patients. It’s also important to consider the long-term effects of surgery, both physical and psychological.

Remember, every case of is unique, and what works for one person may not work for another. Ultimately, the goal is to find the best treatment plan for you or your loved one that provides the most benefit with the least amount of risk. Consult with a ScoliSMART specialist to discuss your options and make an informed decision.