Outcome of lung function for scoliosis patients depends on spine surgery technique

Sep 13 2011
Depending on the type of spine surgery used to correct scoliosis, the effects that procedure has on the lungs in the ensuing 10 years can vary among patients, new research says.

Scoliosis is an abnormal curvature of the spine. It affects about 2 to 3 percent of people, totaling an estimated 6 million Americans, according to the National Scoliosis Foundation. The onset of the condition is usually between 10 and 15 years old. Though both boys and girls may develop scoliosis, girls are more likely to have a case severe enough to require treatment.

In up to 85 percent of patients, no one can determine why the abnormality occurs, in which case it is known as idiopathic scoliosis, according to the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS), a branch of the National Institutes of Health. Patients have different treatment options depending on the severity of the disease. While a curve of less than 25 degrees may only warrant routine observation, a curve between 25 and 30 degrees could require bracing. However, a curve of more than 45 degrees, or one that is growing worse, may need surgery to straighten the spine, which can involve fusing and stabilizing different vertebrae, NIAMS said.

One concern of spine surgery is the potential effects it may have on lung function. A study published in the Sept. 15 issue of Spine compares the lung performance in two groups of patients 10 years after corrective surgery for idiopathic scoliosis. One group underwent a procedure that affected the chest wall encasing the lungs, which can happen if spine fusion surgery is done from the front or from the back. The other group had surgery in the back without disrupting the chest wall.

Results showed that 10 years after their procedure, patients whose chest walls were left intact had better measurements for lung function than the other group. Previous studies tested for lung function two or five years post-surgery, making this study the longest follow-up of its kind.