How Much Does Scoliosis Surgery Cost?

There are many variables that can affect the cost of scoliosis surgery, such as location, surgeon, condition severity, whether or not there are complications, and length of stay in the hospital. Not only is the surgery costly, it’s invasive in nature, and many patients experience subsequent complications or are disappointed with the results.

Part of understanding scoliosis surgery and its potential cost and outcome is understanding the journey that leads people there. Before we break down the monetary costs of surgery, let’s look into the main reasons people come into the CLEAR Scoliosis Institute in the first place.

Is Avoiding Surgery the Main Reason People Come into CLEAR?

Usually, there are three main reasons patients come to see us at CLEAR: pain, wanting to be proactive, and seeking a second opinion after being told they need surgery.

The first reason, pain, is the least common. This is because the age group most commonly diagnosed with scoliosis is adolescents between the ages of 10 and 18. For this age group, due to growth and lack of compression, their scoliosis rarely causes pain.

The second reason is people wanting to be proactive. These people might be aware that surgery is an option, but they want to research treatments that can reduce their curvature in a less invasive, more functional way.

The third reason is people facing surgery after being told it’s necessary and wanting to learn more about options that could help them avoid it. Often, these patients are frightened of impending surgery, and it’s that fear that brings them in to find out if there are any treatment options they’re unaware of.

Regardless of the reason a patient comes in to see me, my goal is to educate them on their options, and here at CLEAR, we feel that surgery isn’t always the best option.

What’s the Average Cost of Scoliosis Surgery?

When it comes to determining the average cost of scoliosis surgery, keep in mind that there are numerous unpredictable variables that will impact the final cost. No one knows just how a surgery will go until that patient is opened up and on the table.

Although surgeons have their patients’ best interests at heart, every surgery comes with the risk of complications. Whether or not there are complications during surgery impacts its final cost and outcome.

Common variables that impact the average cost of scoliosis surgery include the surgeon, location of the surgery, whether or not there are complications that lengthen the surgery, the length of hospital stay, and the level of recovery care needed post-surgery.

On average, the cost of surgery ranges from $140,000 to $175,000. The cost of scoliosis surgery is generally broken down like this: [1]

  • 29 percent of the cost comes from the hardware costs (rods, screws, and wires)
  • Another 20 percent is the cost of the in-patient/ICU room
  • Another 12 percent covers the cost of the operating/recovery room
  • 8 percent covers the cost of operating-room instruments
  • 6 percent is bone graft cost 

This average cost would be for full spinal surgery: thoracic to lumbar.

Is Scoliosis Surgery More Common in Adults or Children?

Scoliosis surgery is more commonly performed on children than adults. According to the National Scoliosis Foundation, 38,000 patients receive spinal fusion surgery each year. [2] 

Children and adolescents have the added risk of rapid progression because they are always growing. While there are many things we’ve yet to learn about scoliosis, one thing we know for certain is that growth spurts are the number one cause of progression.

Surgery is typically recommended when a curvature reaches a certain Cobb angle. This varies somewhat from country to country. In the United States, it’s often recommended  for patients whose Cobb angle is 40+ degrees, and in Europe that benchmark is generally 50+ degrees.

Are There Potential Permanent Side Effects to Scoliosis Surgery?

Spinal-fusion surgery for people with scoliosis involves installing hardware to hold the spinal vertebrae together while they fuse into a straighter alignment. The surgery is lengthy and complex.

Every year, approximately 8,000 people who undergo scoliosis surgery in their youth are defined as permanently disabled. [3]

Follow-up X-rays performed on patients who had surgery 22 years earlier often show that their spines have returned to pre-operative levels, meaning the curvature in their spine has returned.

Many people approach spinal-fusion surgery with the hope and belief that their spine will be fully corrected when, realistically, the best-case scenario is that the surgery achieves a 66-percent curvature reduction. [4] People expecting a perfectly straight and fully-functioning spine post-surgery will be disappointed.

That’s why surgery is often recommended to be done sooner than later, because it increases the potential rate of curvature reduction. The less of a correction that’s needed means better results.

In addition to the loss of strength and flexibility in the spine that many patients experience post-surgery, there are other potential side effects to be aware of:

  • Lung function impairment
  • Hooks dislodging
  • Rods breaking
  • Gallstones
  • Pancreatitis
  • Intestinal obstructions

When a spine is ‘held’ in a straighter alignment with hardware, rather than corrected structurally, that spine is less able to distribute force and impact evenly, leading to post-surgery activity restrictions. 

Patients who’ve had scoliosis surgery often struggle with fear of their spine snapping or hardware malfunctioning, and that fear can keep them from trying new things or participating in the activities they were able to do before surgery.

These are all factors I want my patients to be aware of so they can make a fully-informed decision regarding treatment options and how to live their best lives with the condition.

What Would You Say to a Patient Who’s Considering Surgery and Wanting Advice?

The first thing I would say to a patient who’s considering scoliosis surgery is that no one should consider it without being fully informed. I want every patient to know all their options and have a realistic idea of what life can be like post-surgery. I like to make sure their expectations are aligned with potential outcomes.

I would also want to make sure that no one is considering surgery out of fear or because they feel there are no other options.

For patients considering surgery because they’re concerned about lung impairment, I would explain that lung issues don’t often come into play with scoliosis until curves are 50 to 60 degrees. Even in those cases, lung impairment isn’t always an issue, and even for those who experience a decrease in lung volume, they are often unaware because the impairment is functional. It’s usually not until curves reach 90+ degrees that lung impairment becomes noticeable to the point that it affects daily life.

The research is clear that people with abnormal spinal curvatures can remain fully functional. What I want to impart to people is an awareness that there are less-invasive conservative treatment options with proven positive results. [5]

I remind people that once they’ve had surgery, there’s no going back; it’s a big decision. A lot of people who’ve made the choice to have spinal-fusion surgery report living with chronic pain and mobility restrictions. There are also many people who have reactions to the metals attached to their spine and report feelings of pain and discomfort as a result.

Conclusion

There are many factors that go into determining the final cost of scoliosis surgery, but on average, you can expect to pay anywhere from $140,000 to $175,000. While cost is an important factor to consider, I caution people to ensure they’re aware of the non-monetary costs of scoliosis surgery as well.

In addition to researching all of the treatment options available, I want people to really make sure that their expectations of what spinal-fusion surgery can do for them are aligned with potential outcomes.

There are also a lot of potential side effects that go along with scoliosis surgery, and people need to know about all of them to make a fully-informed decision. People need to be aware of the limitations that they can experience post-surgery. A decrease in the spine’s ability to absorb force and maintain flexibility are outcomes that a lot of people don’t expect and are disappointed with.

Here at CLEAR, we are dedicated to educating people on alternative treatment options that are less invasive, cost-effective, don’t carry side effects, and don’t cost the spine its strength and flexibility.

Sources

[1] Clinical: Deformity 216 Hospital Cost Analysis of Adult Scoliosis Surgery in 120 Consecutive Cases M. Ialenti1, B. Lonner1, P. P

[2] National Scoliosis Foundation

[3] Long-term results of quality of life in patients with idiopathic scoliosis after Harrington instrumentation and their relevance for expert evidence.

[4] Radiologic findings and curve progression 22 years after treatment for adolescent idiopathic scoliosis: comparison of brace and surgical treatment with matching control group of straight individuals.

[5] Patient-reported side effects immediately after chiropractic scoliosis treatment: a cross-sectional survey utilizing a practice-based research network

Additional Resources:

Clear-institute.org - The CLEAR Approach

Scoliosisjournal.biomedcentral.com - Patient-Reported Side Effects Immediately after Chiropractic Scoliosis Treatment

 

The author’s views are his or her own and may not reflect the views of CLEAR Scoliosis Institute.

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This website is for informational and general purposes only. Information provided is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice because of something you have read on this site. 

CLEAR Scoliosis Centers are privately owned and operated chiropractic clinics. Doctors at CLEAR Scoliosis Centers are personally responsible for all clinical decision making. CLEAR Scoliosis Institute, a nonprofit organization, does not have any authority over the clinic, make any clinical recommendations, or dictate patient care.
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