Should You Have Scoliosis Surgery?

By David K. Wolpert

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Making the decision to have surgery is not easy. Even if the rationale for having surgery is clear, surgery can be a frightening prospect. Here are a few suggestions to assist in the decision-making process.

Take advantage of the fact that time is on your side. Scoliosis surgery is almost never urgent. Unless you are in unbearable pain or your heart and lungs are being dangerously compressed due to your curvature, you do not need to have surgery right now. You can take as much time as you need to research scoliosis thoroughly and talk to others who have been through the surgery.

Although holding off on having surgery is always an option, there are consequences for waiting too long. In general, the younger you are, the faster you will recover, the greater the correction possible, and the lower the chances of serious surgical complications. On the other hand, surgical procedures may continue to improve as they have over the last twenty years, thus offering improved correction, faster recovery with less pain, and fewer complications should you decide to delay surgery. Only you, in consultation with your orthopedist and with those who care about you, can make the right decision.

Get additional medical opinions. Every orthopedic surgeon is different. Based on his or her specialization and experience, each surgeon may give you a different assessment of whether you are a strong surgical candidate, how he or she would approach your surgery, and what level of correction may be achieved.

Involve others in your decision. It is useful to gain perspective from those you trust. Discuss your condition and your surgeon’s prognosis with your family, friends, and others who are important to you and whose opinions you value. Talking it out and getting feedback will give you more confidence that you are making the right decision, whatever that may be.

A word of caution: be certain that the people you talk to are not grossly misinformed about scoliosis, nor have financial or other interests in recommending alternative treatments that are not clinically proven to be of benefit.

Make sure that you are being realistic about your expectations from surgery and are willing to accept some risks. As mentioned earlier, no surgeon can predict with certainty how much your curvature can be corrected or how much your back pain, if you are experiencing any, can be relieved. There are no guarantees that this surgery will relieve any pain you are experiencing. It may, in fact, cause additional pain, or it may simply change the nature or location of your pain.

Ask your doctor to be forthcoming about all potential surgical complications. Most scoliosis surgery patients have relatively minor complications, or none whatsoever. Nonetheless, to make a well-informed decision about whether to have surgery, you need to be aware of all the complications that you may experience, however unlikely they may be. Many orthopedists will not discuss the less likely complications with you unless you bring up the subject.

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