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Some Adults With Scoliosis Could Require Major Corrective Surgery

Author: Dr. Maria Simbra

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PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – When you think of scoliosis, it’s most often associated with kids, during the growth spurt just before puberty.

But, adults can get scoliosis, too.

Kathleen Mosier had severe lower back pain due to adult scoliosis, an abnormal curvature of her spine. At the time, she was working as an occupational therapy assistant.

“In my job, I had to bend over, repeatedly, many times a day. And that just set me into tears. It was horrific,” she said.

The worst part was not being able to play with her grandchildren.

“Not only could I not play with them, it just hurt, I couldn’t even hold them. It just broke my heart,” she said.

When the doctor took pictures, the trouble was obvious.

“You can see just a very slight curve in my lower back, and in 10 years’ time, to look at the before and to look at the after, I couldn’t believe how bad it looked,” Mosier said.

In adults, scoliosis can occur because of degeneration of the spine. People can have numbness, tingling, or pain down their legs, bowel and bladder symptoms, and weakness. It can lead to life-threatening problems, as the space for vital organs gets constricted.

Mosier tried physical therapy, and consulted with a local surgeon, but came to Pittsburgh for major corrective surgery.

“These surgeries last from anywhere from maybe six to fourteen hours,” Dr. Kojo Hamilton, of UPMC Neurosurgery, said. “We can manipulate the spine after making cuts into it, we call them osteotomies.”

The spine is stabilized with screws and rods — each patient’s case is different. Even each backbone can be different. The surgeon has to adjust to the circumstances.

“Having both plan A, plan B, and sometimes even plan C,” Dr. Hamiliton said.

It’s a team effort — primary care, heart and lung doctors, physical therapists, and others work along with the surgical team in the plan and preparation.

“Things that inhibit success of surgery would be exposure to nicotine smoking, and also bone quality, and also if they are on the heavier side,” Dr. Hamiliton said.

Mosier ended up needing two surgeries. Her bones were too soft to heal properly around the screws. A few months after the first procedure, she felt good enough to do strenuous work, but ended up with severe complications.

“So, I broke two rods, and loosened seven screws, and broke off the head of the pin that went down into my pelvis. So, I did it up good,” she said.

After a revision, she is back to her usual activities.

“My back is feeling much better. I’m able to function in life again,” Mosier said.

And she is grateful to her surgeon.

“I can play with my grandkids again. And I owe that to him,” she said.

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