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Scoliosis Advances: Getting It Straight

June 24, 2020

For children with a severe curve of the spine caused by scoliosis, the best option for treatment has long been surgery: to implant a stiff, stabilizing rod. Since late last year, however, surgeons at Atlantic Health System can offer an exciting, new treatment. And the benefits over the traditional surgery are significant.

“We’re now able to offer a novel procedure to correct the severe curves of the spine and still allow the child to move, bend and twist naturally,” says Jason Lowenstein, MD, director of the Scoliosis & Spinal Deformity Center for Morristown Medical Center. “New techniques like this don’t come around that often in the field of spine surgery, and it’s exciting that our patients can benefit from it.” The new procedure is called “tethering,” and the FDA approved it for children just last year. Dr. Lowenstein, a nationally recognized scoliosis specialist, was invited to become one of the first 75 surgeons in the country to receive the training necessary to perform it.

Keeping the Spine Flexible

Scoliosis is when the spine curves from side to side in an “S” or “C” shape. When the curve gets greater over time and is not improving with other treatments, surgery is the best option. Traditional surgery to correct the curve is called “fusion.” It works by stiffening the spine into the right shape using a metal rod. Screws attach the rod to the vertebrae (bones in the spine). Over time, vertebrae grow together, or fuse, in place. Recovery can take several months.

With the new Tethering Surgery, Dr. Lowenstein uses a strong, flexible cord to pull the spine into the proper position. After the procedure, children have an immediate and permanent correction of the spine, he says, and great range of motion compared to fusion surgery.

Recovery takes just a few weeks, and the child can return to sports and other activities.

“Typically, no further treatment or other surgery is needed,” Dr. Lowenstein says. “This is a big advancement that holds huge promise for our patients with severe scoliosis.”

Signs of Scoliosis

  • One shoulder sticks out more or is higher than the other
  • Hips are not even
  • Spine rotates
  • Back pain
  • Problems breathing