Scoliosis is a condition that causes an abnormal curvature of the spine. It is most commonly seen in adolescents, in the form of adolescent idiopathic scoliosis, a condition that our lumbar and cervical spine practice in New Jersey treats frequently. On rare occasions, scoliosis can occur in children who are much younger. Early onset scoliosis is a more difficult condition to treat, and often requires surgical intervention as often as every six months. But a new technology that has been developed at Johns Hopkins University Hospital is allowing these youngest victims of scoliosis to avoid the trauma and pain of multiple surgeries.
Where adolescent patients diagnosed with scoliosis are generally treated using a back brace until they are old enough to undergo a single surgery, younger patients who are still growing have typically had to undergo multiple implants of metal rods that need to be replaced as their spines elongate. But a new technology has changed all of that. Instead of metal rods, titanium rods that contain tiny magnetic motors are being used. These rods are able to stretch internally via an external remote control. Instead of having to return to the hospital for removal of old rods and replacement with new ones, patients are able to return for a doctors appointment every few months, during which time the physician expands the rods and stretches their spine in increments of approximately 5 millimeters.
The surgery was recently performed on 10-year-old Garrett King. At the age of 7 he came down with an illness that sent him into a coma for over a month. When he recovered he had developed scoliosis so severe that his father said, “It was actually pushing his left hip out of its socket.” Instead of subjecting the child to multiple surgeries, his doctor used the new technology, which he says “allows growth to happen and even to be driven without repeated surgery. This has been a really coole, eye-opening, game changing, transformative advance in care of children with young growing spine disorders.”
Garrett’s father describes the periodic follow-up appointments as quick and easy. “They go ahead and adjust his rods, lengthen the rods as needed and we’re in and out of here within 15 to 20 minutes.” He says that the curvature is already better and that the visits and adjustments will continue until he stops growing.
This new technology represents a dramatic leap forward for those rare instances in which a child’s spine begins to curve at an extremely early age. For those who are older, treatment is only recommended when the curve is greater than 20 degrees. Each case is different. For some, a brace to prevent further progression of the curve may be all that is needed, while for curves that are 30 degrees or greater, surgery is usually necessary.
If you suspect that your child has a curvature of the spine, early diagnosis provides the most options. Call our office today to learn more.