Overcoming a Failed Scoliosis Surgery

Have you been experiencing back pain or general discomfort for a period of two weeks or more following a failed scoliosis surgery? Are conservative methods, like pain management and physical therapy, not delivering satisfactory results?

While many can manage scoliosis pain with a combination of medication and physical therapy, an unlucky few will require surgical correction.

No one gets excited about going under the knife. After all, it’s a scary prospect.

You may be wary of potential risks and complications. Because, of course, risk-free surgery simply doesn’t exist—no matter how talented your doctor may be. Even the most minimally invasive surgical procedures come with their own set of inherent risks. But, usually, when people think of surgical risks, they may envision excessive bleeding or anesthesia complications. Most people don’t consider, “what if the surgery simply doesn’t work?”

To be clear, more often than not, pain is reduced after a procedure. Only on rare occasions does pain worsen as new scar tissue builds up around adjacent nerve roots. But, adverse consequences of surgery do happen. And, when they do, you want answers. Placing your trust in another surgeon is a delicate matter. But, you don’t have to throw in the towel and resign yourself to living in pain. We’ll explain what might have gone wrong and how you can get your life back following a failed scoliosis surgery.

First Things First: What is Scoliosis?

No matter to whom you talk, doctors describe scoliosis in the same general way. The condition denotes a sideways curvature of the spine that often resembles an S when the specialist views the spine from the back. There are different classifications of scoliosis named by either the cause of the condition or the severity of the curve. For the sake of brevity, we’ll only discuss two major types of the condition: congenital and idiopathic.

As mentioned, the difference between these two types relates to the condition’s underlying cause. Congenital scoliosis is present at birth, whereas idiopathic scoliosis develops later on and for no apparent cause.

Aside from that, however, the two subtypes are not very different from one another. Both exhibit the same series of symptoms and are treated using the same methods. To be perfectly honest, the type of treatment that your doctor uses will depend on the severity of your case. Many cases of scoliosis are resolvable through conservative means, but as you may imagine, if your sideways curvature is bad enough then surgery may be your only option.

Most commonly, scoliosis will appear in patients during the major growth spurt that occurs just before puberty. As you might expect, periods of skeletal growth may easily lead to the progression of the curve. Because of this, it is usually best to treat the condition as soon as possible so that symptoms do not worsen with time.

How Do I Know if I Have Scoliosis?

There are a number of physical signs that you should keep an eye out for if you expect that you have scoliosis. Almost all of these indicators have to do with body asymmetry. If you suspect that you have the condition, look out for the following symptoms:

  • Your head is not centered with the rest of your body.
  • One of your shoulder blades is higher than the other.
  • Your waist tilts at an uneven angle.
  • The gap between your arm and trunk is wider on one side than the other.
  • Your hips do not sit at the same level.
  • The natural line of the spine is not as straight as it should be.

If your case is severe enough, these signs will be obvious without the need for any kind of diagnostic testing. You will simply be able to notice the asymmetry at all times. That being said, many cases of scoliosis are not so obvious. In such instances, there is a quick self-test that you can perform to assess your spine.

The test in question is known as the Adam’s forward-bend test and it is easy to perform with a partner. First, begin in a standing position with both your feet together. Next, you’ll want to bend forward as far as you possibly can with your palms together and your fingers pointing between your toes. Once you are in this position, observe your back through the use of a mirror. If one side of your back appears to be higher than the other, then you may have scoliosis.

For best results, however, always consult a physician or an orthopedic specialist.

Scoliosis Care: Common Surgical Treatments

In almost all cases, severe scoliosis is progressive. In other words, if left unchecked, the condition will worsen with time. To combat this, your doctor will resort to surgery in order to stop the deformity’s progression with the goal of simultaneously reducing the sideways curvature of the spine. There are different possibilities when it comes to surgical treatment for scoliosis, but almost all of them involve some form of spinal fusion.

So, what exactly is spinal fusion? During this type of procedure, your surgeon will fuse two or more vertebrae in your spine together so that they cannot move independently. The goal here is to improve the stability of the spine by fusing bones that would otherwise be out of alignment. Typically, to accomplish this task, your surgeon will need to rely on bone or bone-like hardware that they insert in between the affected vertebrae. This material may include bone grafts, metal rods, hooks, screws, or wires. Basically, these surgical implants will hold your bones together while they fuse naturally together with time. In addition, these materials also serve to fix the spine in more proper alignment.

In cases that involve children who still have plenty of growing left to do, the surgeon will likely use an adjustable rod to alter the spinal curvature. The rod must be adjustable so that the doctor can tweak the length to accommodate for growth. In such cases, the child will need their rod adjusted approximately every six months.

How Do I Know If My Surgery Failed?

You will know if your scoliosis surgery failed if your symptoms persist well after the procedure. As mentioned earlier, in some cases, scar tissue may accrue around the spine, intensifying pain. Fortunately, this is quite rare thanks to advancements in the realms of minimally invasive surgical procedures. You simply don’t see failed scoliosis surgeries very often.

If you suspect that your surgery failed, here are some possible reasons why you may require revision surgery:

  • Implant failure: Spinal fusion implants may break, become dislodged, or pierce the spinal canal and apply pressure on nearby nerve roots. This may lead to additional pain or further disability depending on the cause.
  • Nerve damage: You should suspect nerve damage if you lose sensation in your skin, feel weakness in your extremities, or lose control over your bowels and/or bladder. In extraordinarily rare circumstances, patients may develop paraplegia or quadriplegia.
  • Chronic pain: Unfortunately, even in successful surgeries, residual pain may become apparent further down the road. In fact, roughly 33% of patients suffer from chronic back pain within 5-7 years of their original procedure.
  • Infection: Simply put, there is no such thing as a surgical procedure that has no risk of infection. Infections with scoliosis surgeries are quite rare (within the 5-10 percent range), but they do happen. Additionally, the dangers of infection do not disappear with time. In fact, some infections may develop up to 8 years after the initial surgery.

Reclaim Your Life from Failed Scoliosis Surgery

If you are still exhibiting symptoms after undergoing a scoliosis surgery, please contact our office at (855) 220-5966. Dr. Jason E. Lowenstein is board-certified, fellowship-trained scoliosis and spinal deformity surgeon who serves as a regional referral source for failed back surgeries. When other physicians encounter a particularly complex case of failed scoliosis surgery, they send the case to Dr. Lowenstein.

With well over a decade of surgical expertise, Dr. Lowenstein is well-versed in some of the most advanced surgical techniques available today. Additionally, he is a co-founder of the Advanced Spine Center and has been recognized locally, nationally, and internationally as one of the most talented members of the scoliosis treatment community.

When it comes to your spine, as well as your health in general, there is no one more qualified whom you can trust. Dr. Lowenstein will work tirelessly to ensure that you access the perfect solution for your individual needs. If you require revision spine surgery to address your scoliosis, you can rest assured that your care is in capable and caring hands.