Stapling for Scoliosis

May 31, 2009 11:21:58 PM PDT
Scoliosis is a condition that causes the spine to curve like an "s" or a "c." Five out of every 1,000 kids need treatment for it. Braces are the most common treatment, but results take years. Surgery is used for extreme cases. Now, there's a less invasive way to correct the curve by using staples.

Kacey Crespo has yelled, kicked and hit her way into a green belt in Tae Kwan Do.

"It's very good when you come from a hard day at school," Kacey told Ivanhoe. "You get to go beat stuff up."

Not bad for a girl who was forced into wearing a brace because of scoliosis, an abnormal curvature of the spine.

"You just look a little lopsided when you look at yourself," Kacey said.

"The worst part was getting her to wear the brace," Kacey's mother, Karla Crespo, told Ivanhoe. "She had to wear it 16 hours a day."

Scoliosis can be painful, and the curve of the spine can make it hard to breathe. Now, a new procedure is straightening spines without the an awkward brace and without spine fusion surgery.

"Stapling has emerged as a way to fuse the spine and [not only] stop progression, but potentially reverse the curvature," Michael Vitale, M.D., a pediatric spine surgeon at Morgan Stanley Children's Hospital in New York, N.Y., told Ivanhoe.

Through two small incisions in the side, surgeons implant inch-long metallic staples across the growth plates of the spine.

"The staple is shaped like a rectangle when it's cold, but after being exposed to the warmth of the body, the staple contracts and compresses down," Dr. Vitale said. "So the curve, right in the operating room, gets straight just from the staple squeezing the curvature.

Dr. Vitale says he sees 30 to 40 percent straightening immediately. Stapling isn't for everyone. It works best for children with progressive to moderate scoliosis who are still growing.

"There are cases where if the staples are put in too early, the curve can not only reverse and go to zero, but start to develop the opposite way," Dr. Vitale said.

Kacey's spine went from a 32-degree curve to a 20-degree one within days, and now she's back in class yelling, kicking and hitting her way to a black belt.

Girls are at least four times more likely to develop scoliosis than boys. Stapling works best for girls up to age 12 and boys up to 14. They can be removed but usually are not.

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