Scoliosis surgery: is it worth the cost?Sunday, July 06, 2014
Dr Chris Davis
This is the first in a two-part piece looking at the facts about scoliosis surgery.
A common scoliosis surgical procedure is about 10 hours in which they open you up on your side and on your back and insert steel rods held together by multiple screws. In order to help bone growth, one of the ribs is taken out and six of the discs. They can also take a bone graft from the hip. They take this bone and fill three cages that hold the bone, which are in-between the vertebra.
If you are normal, this may sound gruesome, but it's just the beginning. "Corrective" spinal surgery for scoliosis can be a distressing experience for adolescent patients and their parents. Spinal surgery often involves an extensive amount of tissue and bone trauma that can result in excruciating pain, sometimes permanently and constantly for the rest of their lives. It can also kill or maim you.
At least people appear "straighter" after invasive surgery, right? Rarely. Temporarily.
Still worse, there is no guarantee that despite the steep cost of spinal surgery, the results would be as expected or promised. In many cases, the remedy can be and is worse than the disease itself.
Why do so many patients continue to opt for spinal surgery?
I've been baffled by it and discovered that over the years, we have veered so far away from conventional modes of scalpel-free treatment, and opted for quick-fix cures, we've forgotten that there were recoveries from scoliosis even when doctors didn't wield any scalpels.
You see, the medical model is to wait and watch until a spinal curve is so far gone that it "warrants" bracing and/or surgery. This is a tremendous dishonour to a human being; and, even more so, for a minor.
What they fail to inform patients and parents of is that bracing has been proven ineffective and surgery is extremely invasive, dangerous, and relatively quite ineffective as well. What they fail to tell you is that after the surgery you are effectively stuck in place with steel and you will never move, bend or twist normally again. You may walk around straighter, but that is your only available position. What they also fail to disclose is that the muscles of the spine are very strong and have "memory", and will gradually pull the steel rods over time and bend them back into the shape of the original scoliosis.
Every year in the United States, roughly 20,000 Harrington rod implantation surgeries are performed on patients with scoliosis, at an average cost of US$150,000 per operation. one-third of all spinal surgeries are performed on scoliosis patients.
Every year, about 8,000 people who underwent this surgery in their youth are legally defined as permanently disabled for the rest of their lives.
Of course, a medical statistician would call this only "point 4", which in the real world is 40%. You have a .17, or 17% chance of being injured or dying from playing Russian Roulette. To put it into perspective, you are 2.4 times less likely to have a serious injury or death from playing with a single-chamber, loaded gun than you are from having one of these spinal surgeries. Would any parent on this planet willingly allow their child to play with a loaded gun?
Even worse, follow-up X-rays performed upon the surviving individuals reveal that, an average of 22 years after the surgery was performed, their scoliosis returned to pre-operative levels.
Don't forget to "Ask Your Chiropractor" every week where your questions may be published and answered in subsequent articles. Address questions to: Dr Chris Davis, the Spinal Mechanic and lead doctor, at email@example.com; or, Dr Michael Harvey, director, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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