Orthopaedic Conditons & Treatments

Spinal Deformity Treatment and Surgery

A number of factors go into the determination of the right treatment and surgery for spinal deformity. These include your age, your past and current health, the severity of the deformity and your history with other medications and treatments. A spinal deformity, which is an abnormal curvature in your spine, can be caused by a number of factors.

Spinal Deformity Diagnosis

A spinal deformity can be anything from painless to life threatening, depending on its severity. If you have any indication that you may have a spinal deformity, it is vital that you seek medical attention to determine the extent of the condition. To diagnose your disorder, your doctor will go through a series of questions and a basic physical examination. Then, other tests may be done to determine the extent of the deformity:

  • X-Ray (Radiograph) – This is usually one of the first tests done, as it can give doctors a good overview of the condition of your spine. It is a fast test where radiation is sent through your torso and shoulders. The image captured will reflect your bone structure, giving the doctor a visual representation of your current state.
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) – MRIs do not require radiation, are in some cases the preferred method of imaging. You will be placed in a vessel that contains a magnetic field. Radio waves are then aimed at your spine, which causes the vertebrae to vibrate. A computer uses these vibrations and turns them into a high-definition image.
  • Pulmonary Function Test – In rare occasions where the deformity is thought to be inhibiting your breathing, a pulmonary function test may be done to determine whether your breathing is normal or if it is affected by the spine deformity.

Nonsurgical Treatment for Spinal Deformity
Depending on the extent of the deformation in the spine, surgery may not be required. For minor abnormal curvatures and deformities, observation may be all that is required to ensure there is no progression of the condition. For children who have a deformity, a brace may be worn to prevent further progression of the abnormal curvature of the spine. This brace is not used to correct the problem but instead is simply a prevention mechanism against worsening of the spinal deformity.

Spinal Deformity Surgery

In some cases, a spinal deformity necessitates surgical intervention or repair – especially for people whose spines continue to grow abnormally. The goal of most spine deformity surgeries is to stop the progression of the abnormal curvature and repair the body so there are no complications due to this change. The majority of spinal deformities are treated using the following techniques:

  • Thoracoscopic (Anterior) Spine SurgeryThis is one of the latest surgical advancements in correcting spinal deformities and preventing future progression of deformities. It involves going through the chest cavity to access the spine. This allows surgeons a way to approach the spine using fewer incisions, and correct it without having to cut down the length of the back. While this approach is ideal due to the smaller incisions, it can only be performed when the deformity is on the lumbar curve, or lower part of the back.
  • Spinal Fusion Surgery This is the most common surgery for correcting a spinal deformity. It involves accessing the spine from the back and carefully removing the muscles from the spinal area. Once this has been done, rods and bone casts can be added to the spine to fuse vertebrae together, inhibiting further abnormal curvature.

Spinal Deformity Research
The majority of spinal deformity research surrounds the causes of these deformities. Because it is still unknown or uncertain how these deformities occur in both children and adults, treatment options are more limited and prevention is impossible.

The most common cause of spinal deformity in people of all ages is idiopathic scoliosis. This type of spinal deformity has to do with the abnormal curvature of the spine; however, its cause is unknown. It primarily affects adolescents, but if it’s not detected in time, it can continue developing into adulthood. Research to determine the cause of this type of scoliosis is ongoing. So far, researchers have determined that genetics do play a large role in this specific spinal deformity. However, the exact genes that cause this to occur have yet to be determined.

In addition to trying to determine the specific genetic causes of spinal deformity, other treatment options are being researched closely, as well. These include advancements to the brace technology that is used to slow the progression of the deformity, as well as various less invasive surgical techniques to correct spinal deformity. Because of the sensitivity of the spine, as well as the organs around the spine, surgeries tend to require large incisions. Researchers continue to search for other methods to properly treat this area of the body without such harsh measures.

As research on spinal deformity causes and treatments is ongoing, it is a good idea for your conversation about it with your doctor to be ongoing as well.            

Rehabilitation Services
The Rehabilitation Network of the North Shore-LIJ Health System is dedicated to providing you and your family with result-oriented, comprehensive rehabilitation services. Our goal is to help you and your loved ones find relief from pain and get moving again after an accident, illness, injury or surgery. We’re your partner in a safe, healthy, more rapid recovery.

The multidisciplinary team of orthopaedic experts at North Shore-LIJ Orthopaedic Institute's Trauma Services in New York performs spinal deformity surgery as well as a broad range of nonsurgical and surgical treatments for conditions that affect the bones.