When people hear the term scoliosis, they immediately think of a young child with a crooked spine. However, the most common form of scoliosis, degenerative scoliosis, actually occurs much later in adulthood and can affect patients of any age. This is increasingly recognized by physicians since degenerative scoliosis can severely limit patients and reduce their quality of life.
UCLA physicians have developed the Spinal Deformity Program specifically to address the needs of these patients. Led by Luke Macyszyn, MD, an assistant professor in the UCLA Department of Neurosurgery, the goal of the program is to increase awareness of this disease and offer patients cutting-edge treatments to correct their spinal deformity and allow them to live an active life.
“There is a lot of blood, sweat and tears that go into these surgeries, but in the end, nothing beats patients coming back after surgery showing off how well they can walk again,” said Dr. Macyszyn who along with Natalie Moreland, MD, an assistant clinical professor of anesthesiology and director of anesthesia for spine surgery, manage the program.
As people age, they lose the normal curvature of their spine and slowly begin to bend forward. Additionally, as the discs in their spine degenerate, the spine can start bending side to side, just like it does in children. This abnormal alignment requires patients to use a lot more energy to stand upright, which after a while increases their pain and limits their ability to walk.
Hence, the goal of the spinal deformity program is to correct the patient’s deformity and restore a normal posture. Researchers, including Drs. Macyszyn and Moreland, have shown that patients benefit significantly from these surgeries, reporting reduced pain and disability after surgery.
"These surgeries are complex and often require long operative times," said Dr. Moreland. "We begin planning many weeks in advance to make sure patients are medically ready for surgery in order to render these surgeries as safe as possible for patients.”
These surgeries, despite their great benefit, have traditionally been associated with a higher complication rate. Hence, before undergoing surgery, patients are enrolled in the program and undergo a series of medical evaluations to ensure that their heart and bones are ready. This team includes physicians from pain management, the preoperative clinic, as well as physical therapists. During surgery, Dr. Macyszyn uses various tools, such as a GPS system for placing spinal hardware, to make surgery safer and more efficient.
“This is a life-changing procedure and the purpose of this program is to make sure patients receive the best care and extract the most benefit possible from this surgery,” Dr. Macyszyn said.