We offer the most current treatments for children with scoliosis. These can include investigative treatments, surgeries to correct spinal deformities and treatments that do not involve surgery.
Scoliosis Treatment Options
Young children whose spinal curves are between 20 degrees and 40 degrees may benefit from wearing a back brace to stop the curve from getting worse as they grow.
If your child begins treatment with a brace, they may wear it until they finish growing or the curve gets so large that they need surgery.
With this therapy, fitting the brace correctly is important. We have extensive experience in making braces to fit children of all sizes and ages. Read about braces and our other orthotics and prosthetics services.
The most common type of physical therapy used for scoliosis is called the Schroth method. Seattle Children’s has physical therapists trained in Schroth physical therapy, which may be appropriate for some children. With this method, your child learns and practices exercises during visits with a physical therapist and uses these exercises every day at home. Read more about Schroth physical therapy (PDF).
Other forms of therapy, such as massage, chiropractic manipulations, exercise programs and electric stimulation, do not hurt the spine. But they have not been shown to correct scoliosis or prevent the progress of it either.
Surgery for Scoliosis
Children with spinal curves that are greater than 45 degrees may benefit from surgery. Our surgical team uses different types of operations to correct the curve and stabilize the spine.
Spinal instrumentation. Many forms of spinal instrumentation are used in scoliosis surgery. The classic Harrington instrumentation (red arrow) and more modern CD form (yellow arrow) are examples.
The most common operation for scoliosis is spinal fusion. This surgery straightens your child’s spine by releasing some of the ligaments and joints around the spinal cord. We then attach a metal rod to the bones in the back.
In a spinal fusion operation, the doctor makes a cut (incision) to reach your child’s spine. The doctor reaches the spine either from the back or from the side.
The doctor puts hooks or screws in the bones of the spine, removes the joints between the bones and attaches the rod to the hooks or screws.
Your child’s spine is repositioned so that it is straighter. Then the surgeon tightens the screws or hooks to make sure they are firmly attached to the rod. Finally, the surgeon places a bone graft along the spine to help the bones of the spine grow together.
Growing rods and VEPTR
This operation may help very young children whose spines are still growing and who are not helped by treatment with a back brace.
The operation uses spine-supporting metal rods that can be lengthened as your child grows. As in spinal fusion, the doctor attaches a rod to the bones in your child's spine. Unlike spinal fusion, the doctor does not remove the joints between the bones and does not fuse the spine.
With this treatment, your child needs surgery about every six to nine months to lengthen the rod as they grow.
Seattle Children's was involved in development of a technology called vertical expandable prosthetic titanium rib (VEPTR). VEPTR is a variation of growing rods that we use to treat spine conditions in very young children who have fused ribs, congenital scoliosis and severe chest wall deformities. It can attach to ribs or parts of the spine or pelvis.