Spinal fusion surgery is one treatment option for scoliosis that permanently joins two or more adjacent vertebrae so they grow together and form a solid-like bone that is no longer curved. If your child has been diagnosed with scoliosis, the pediatric orthopaedics team at University of Missouri Health Care can perform surgery to help correct the curvature of the spine and prevent further progression.

Fusion 1
16-year-old male with a 60-degree thoracic curve and a 33-degree thoracolumbar curve before and after posterior spinal fusion.
Fusion 2
14-year-old male with idiopathic scoliosis and a 55-degree thoracolumbar curve before and after posterior spinal fusion.

 

Fusion 3
12-year-old male with 50-degree neuromuscular scoliosis and cerebral palsy before and after posterior spinal fusion.

 

Spinal fusion surgery

Spinal fusion surgery places rods, screws, and hooks in the vertebra of the spine to help straighten the scoliosis curve. The vertebra fuse together, with the help of bone graft, to correct scoliosis and prevent it from progressing. Spinal fusion surgery is most appropriate for children with a severe curve of 45-degrees or higher. If not treated, severe scoliosis can have a future impact on your child's lung function.

What to expect at your first appointment

At your child's first appointment, our pediatric orthopaedics team will perform an evaluation that includes imaging tests, such as X-rays, and a physical exam. We will discuss treatment options with you and answer any questions you might have. If spinal fusion surgery is recommended, a pre-operative appointment will be scheduled to discuss surgical and recovery details.

Preparing for surgery

Before your surgical date, you and your child will meet with our nurse practitioner to prepare for surgery as well as discuss his or her recovery. Your child will need additional radiology images, like a CT scan, and blood work. During this appointment, it’s a great time to talk about you or your child's anxiety about surgery.

Recovering from surgery

Spinal fusion surgery typically takes between six to eight hours depending on how large the scoliosis curve is. Once your child’s surgery is complete, he or she will go to the pediatric floor and start recovery following the Team Integrated Enhanced Recovery (TIGER) protocol. This unique team surgery protocol is unlike any other and designed to reduce the length of your child’s hospital stay, improve recovery time and get your child back to his or her favorite activities.

We set daily goals and expectations for pain control and mobility to help in eliminating post-operative complications. You can expect your child to be in the hospital for two to three days after surgery. Most children are back to their normal activities within a few months and off pain medications within two weeks. Restrictions, such as bending, lifting and twisting, will be placed for six months following recovery from surgery.

Patient testimonial

My scoliosis journey began when I was 12 years old. My mom noticed my shoulder blades seemed uneven. At my next pediatrician appointment, the doctor checked my spine, and we were immediately sent for X-rays, which showed I had scoliosis. Soon after, we were set up with Dr. Dan Hoernschemeyer.

Meredith Rupp after surgery

We were able to see him and his team in Springfield, which was much closer to our home than Columbia. I was fitted for a brace that I had to wear at all times except when showering and certain activities, like dance. Despite following doctor’s orders for the next two years, my curve kept progressing. It became apparent that I was going to need a spinal fusion to prevent the curve from getting worse. We discussed the pros and cons of doing the surgery and decided to do it sooner rather than later. I didn’t want to risk having more of my spine fused if I waited. My parents and I felt confident with Dr. Dan and his team because of their knowledge and experience.

I had surgery in July 2020, and it was tough, but I was able to walk from my bed to a chair just a few hours after surgery! Each day I was able to do a little more than the day before. I was even able to start the new school year in August with no special assistance. Six months later, I was back at dance and you would never know by looking at me that I had a major back surgery. Dr. Dan, Nicole Tweedy and the entire team have been so caring and supportive. I’m thankful they have taken such good care of me since my diagnosis.

Meredith Rupp dancing
Meredith Rupp prom

 

— Meredith Rupp
Springfield, Missouri