Scoliosis is estimated to affect 4.5% of the general population. According to some studies, the average scoliosis patient will suffer a 14-year reduction in their average life expectancy.
Clearly this is not a minor issue, but an epidemic, and one that should be taken very seriously.
Harrington Rod Implantation Surgery
Every year in the United States, for example, roughly 20,000 Harrington rod implantation surgeries are performed on patients with scoliosis, at an average cost of $120,000 per operation(2). One-third of all spinal surgeries are performed on scoliosis patients. Every year, about 8,000 people who underwent this surgery in their youth for the correction of their scoliosis are legally defined as permanently disabled for the rest of their lives.
Even worse, follow-up x-rays performed upon these individuals reveal that, an average of 22 years after the surgery was performed, their scoliosis has returned to pre-operative levels (3). The Harrington rods inserted into these individuals’ spines will either bend, break loose from the wires, or worse, break completely in two, necessitating further surgical intervention and removal of the rod. Once the rod is removed, corrosion (rust) is found on two out of every three (4).
After the operation is performed, the average patient suffers a 25% reduction in their spinal ranges of motion (5). Non-fused adult scoliosis patients do not have this same impairment.
This flatly contradicts the claim that having a steel rod fused to your spine will not affect your mobility, physical activities, or quality of life. These facts are never shared with the patient prior to the surgery. Parents do not choose the Harrington rod implantation procedure because it is the best choice for their son or daughter, but rather because they are misled into believing that it is the only choice. However, many studies suggest that the side effects of the surgery are worse than the side effects of the scoliosis itself.
Consider the titles & conclusions of the following Scoliosis studies as they further explain the hazards of scoliosis surgery:
Scoliosis: Surgery, Bracing in Young Unnecessary
Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), Stuart Weinstein, MD, University of Iowa, 2003. “Many with curvature of spine go on to lead normal lives. Many adolescents diagnosed with spine curvatures can skip braces, surgery or other treatment without developing debilitating physical impairments, a 50 year study suggests.” Long-term results of quality of life in patients with idiopathic scoliosis after Harrington instrumentation and their relevance for expert evidence.
Gotze C, Slomka A, Gotze HG, Potzl W, Liljenqvist U, Steinbeck J. Z Orthop Ihre Grenzgeb 2002 Sep-Oct;140(5):492-8 “CONCLUSION: Forty percent of operated treated patients with idiopathic scoliosis were legally defined as severely handicapped persons 16.7 years after the surgery.”
Medical Complications in scoliosis surgery
Curr Opin Pediatr 2001 Feb;13(1):36-41 “[Complications] include the syndrome of inappropriate antidiuretic hormone, pancreatitis, superior mesenteric artery syndrome, ileus, pneumothorax, hemothorax, chylothorax and fat embolism. Urinary tract infections, wound infection and hardware failure are not addressed.” [They were not addressed because happened so often!]
Results of Surgical Treatment of Adults with Idiopathic Scoliosis
J Bone Joint Surg AM 1987 Jun;69(5) :667-75 Sponseller, Nachemson et al, “Frequency of pain was not reduced… pulmonary function did not change… 40% had minor complications, 20% had major complications, and… there was 1 death [out of 45 patients]. In view of the high rate of complications, the limited gains to be derived from spinal fusion should be assessed and clearly explained to the patient.”
Corrosion of spinal implants retrieved from patients with scoliosis
Akazawa T, Minami S, Takahashi K, Kotani T, Hanawa T, Moriya H. Department of Orthopedic Surgery, Graduate School of Medicine, Chiba University, 1-8-1 Inohana, Chiba, 260-8670, Japan. J Orthop Sci. 2005;10(2):200-5. “Corrosion was seen on many of the rod junctions (66.2%) after long-term implantation.” Scoliosis curve correction, thoracic volume changes, and thoracic diameters in scoliotic patients after anterior and posterior instrumentation Int Orthop 2001;25(2):66-0 “The correlation between the change in Cobb angle and the thoracic volume change was poor for both groups.” [e.g., whether fused in the front or back of the spine, surgery will not improve cardiopulmonary function.] Radiologic findings and curve progression 22 years after treatment for AIS Spine 2001 Mar 1;26(5):516-25 “Initial average loss of spinal correction post-surgery is 3.2 degrees in the first year and 6.5 after two years with continued loss of 1.0 degrees per year throughout life.” [So, if a 50 degree Cobb angle is corrected by surgery to 25 degrees, it will return to its pre-operative condition of 50 degrees after roughly twenty years.]
Prospective Evaluation of Trunk Range of Motion in AIS Undergoing Spinal Fusion
Spine 2002 Jun 15;27 (12) :1346-54 Engsberg et al, Wash U, St. Louis, MO “Whereas range of motion was reduced in the fused regions of the spine, it was also reduced in un-fused regions [emphasis added]. The lack of compensatory increase at un-fused regions contradicts current theory.” Health-related quality of life in patients with AIS; a matched follow-up at least 20 years after treatment with brace (BT) or surgery (ST) European Spine Journal 2001; Aug; 10(4): 278-88 “49% of surgically-treated patients admitted limitation of social activities due to their back.”
NEW YORK (Reuters Health) Jan 29, 2008 – Screening for scoliosis and subsequent brace treatment appears to be of no utility in avoiding surgery
Dutch researchers report in the January issue of Pediatrics.
“We think that abolishing screening for scoliosis seems justified,” lead investigator Eveline M. Bunge told Reuters Health. This is “because of the lack of evidence that screening and/or early treatment by bracing is beneficial.”
“For now, instead of screening large numbers of asymptomatic children, the appropriate approach would be to look at a child’s back when there are indications that something is wrong,” she added. Overall, 32.8% of the surgical group had been screened between the age of 11 and 14 years, compared to 43.4% of the controls.
Scoliosis was detected at screening at a significantly earlier age (10.8 years) in the 43 surgical patients known to have been screened, than was the case in those whose condition was detected under different circumstances (13.4 years).
Although there was no significant difference in the duration of brace treatment prior to surgery (average, 2.5 years) between these groups, screened patients had an almost threefold greater chance of being treated with a brace before surgery.
New Research on Scoliosis Surgery Out of the scientific Journal of Pediatric Rehabilitation comes perhaps the most truthful and comprehensive study ever published on the surgical treatment of scoliosis: “Pediatric scoliosis is associated with signs and symptoms including reduced pulmonary function, increased pain and impaired quality of life, all of which worsen during adulthood, even when the curvature remains stable. In 1941, the American Orthopedic Association reported that for 70% of patients treated surgically, the outcome was fair or poor…. (Successful) surgery still does not eliminate spinal curvature and it introduces irreversible complications whose long-term impact is poorly understood. For most patients there is little or no improvement in pulmonary function…. The rib deformity is eliminated only by rib resection which can dramatically reduce respiratory function even in healthy adolescents. Outcome for pulmonary function and deformity is worse in patients treated surgically before the age of 10 years, despite earlier intervention. Research to develop effective non-surgical methods to prevent progression of mild, reversible spinal curvatures into complex, irreversible spinal deformities is long overdue.” [emphasis added] Impact of spine surgery on signs and symptoms of spinal deformity. Pediatric Rehabilitation, 2006 Oct-Dec;9(4):318-36 Hawes, M.
Paul Harrington, known for inventing the surgery that implants metal rods in scoliotic spines, stated in 1963 that, “metal does not cure the disease of scoliosis,which is a condition involving much more than the spinal column.”
These x-rays show Harrington rods that bent and broke while still inside the patient’s body. Many surgeons will refuse to operate on this condition, leaving the patient with few options to alleviate their pain & suffering.
Thank goodness there are alternatives to surgery.
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