Spinal deformity treatment

Your age, past and current health, history with other medications and treatments and the severity of the deformity determine the right treatment and surgery for spinal deformity, which is an abnormal curvature in your spine.

Diagnosis

A spinal deformity can be anything from painless to life threatening. 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 and 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 – On 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

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 that 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 mechanism to prevent worsening of the 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 that there are no complications due to this change. Most spinal deformities are treated using the following techniques:

  • Thorascopic (anterior) spine surgery – This 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 be performed only 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 moving aside 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.

The multidisciplinary team of spine experts at North Shore-LIJ Orthopaedic Institute performs spinal deformity surgery as well as a broad range of nonsurgical and surgical treatments for conditions that affect the bones.

Research

Most spinal deformity research focuses on the causes of these deformities. Because it is still uncertain as to how these deformities occur, treatment options are limited and prevention is impossible. The most common cause of spinal deformity 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 their adulthood. Research to determine the cause of this type of scoliosis is ongoing. So far, researchers have determined that genetics play a large role in this deformity. However, the exact genes that cause it have yet to be determined.

In addition to trying to determine the specific genetic causes of spinal deformity, researchers are looking at more treatment options. These include advancements in the brace technology that is used to slow the progression of the deformity, as well as various less invasive surgical techniques.

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.      

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