Health Headlines: Scoliosis

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Published: May. 4, 2023 at 2:57 PM CDT
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Lake Charles, LA (Ivanhoe News Service) - Up to 9 million people are living with scoliosis — a condition in which the spine curves sideways, causing pain and deformities.

A new procedure has already helped one teen and is now offering hope for her older sister.

Traditionally, kids are put in back braces to try to straighten things out. If that doesn’t work, fusion surgery is the next step. But, that has its limitations. Now, a new, less invasive treatment option is giving kids an easier way to ease their pain.

Both Levitt sisters have scoliosis – as do their mother and grandmother.

“It’s really uncomfortable. I can feel it all the time,” big sister Ire said.

“I was in a lot of pain,” Ruby said.

The difference between the two: Ire has not had surgery, but little sis Ruby tried something new to straighten her spine—vertebral body tethering (VBT).

“It allows us to approach the spine differently in a way where we don’t have to disrupt quite as many muscles and underlying anatomy, Dr. Jaren Riley said. “It also allows us to maintain the flexibility of the spine.”

Through four small incisions, Riley, a pediatric orthopedic surgeon at the Rocky Mountain Hospital for Children, used a rope, similar to nylon, to tether the bones of the spine together.

“With the rope, we can tighten the rope, which allows us to straighten the curve to a certain degree,” Riley said. And so, the curve will gradually get straighter and straighter.”

Ruby had a 52-degree curve in her spine before surgery.

After VBT, it was 18 degrees. She’s pain-free and an inch taller.

“I was really excited about it, and I, like, felt normal for once,” Ruby said.

Now, Ire is hoping to follow in her footsteps and have her surgery this summer.

Right now, VBT is only approved for kids who are still growing, but Riley is working hand-in-hand with insurance companies and the FDA to broaden those restrictions.