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Spinal Fusion for Scoliosis Seems Effective Years Later: Study

SATURDAY, April 9 (HealthDay News) -- Newer spinal fusion surgical techniques provide good long-term outcomes for young people with scoliosis, a small study contends.

People with scoliosis have a sideways curve in their spines. From the early 1960s to the late 1990s, the condition was treated surgically by implanting special contoured metal rods known as "Harrington rods" along the spine. The rods became obsolete in the 1990s when surgeons adopted new methods to fuse the spinal column.

While the modern surgery is superior to the rods because it corrects the spine in a much more natural way, few studies have looked at long-term outcomes among patients, according to the authors of the new study.

There were concerns that the modern surgery would seriously damage the spine just below the fused discs, but this new study says that's not the case.

The study included 20 patients, 21 years old and younger, who underwent spinal fusion at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City between 1991 and 1997.

"We wanted to see how the patients were doing 10 years down the road, specifically focusing on the part of the spine that didn't have surgery. The standard belief was that the area of the spine just below the surgery would wear out, because of the increased stress that the surgery or the fusion would put on that part of the spine," study leader Dr. Daniel Green, a pediatric orthopedic surgeon, said in a hospital news release.

"That isn't what we found. We found that the area of the spine adjacent to the fusion was pretty healthy and didn't show any major degeneration 10 years later. While mild degenerative changes were noted in almost every patient, the severe changes that we were concerned that we might find were not there at all," he said.

The researchers also found that the patients had good balance and function scores and reported no significant lower back pain.

The study was published online in the journal Spine.

More information

The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons has more about scoliosis.

-- Robert Preidt

SOURCE: Hospital for Special Surgery, news release, April 5, 2011

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