Scoliosis Surgery

Scoliosis surgery is an operation for scoliosis that involves a spinal fusion to realign and fuse together the curved vertebrae, allowing the bones to heal into a single, solid bone.

If your child has been diagnosed with scoliosis and surgery may be needed, you might have questions about what to expect in the days, weeks and months before, during and after surgery.

Our specialists of surgeons, physical therapists and staff are here to answer your questions and make sure your child receives the best treatment and post-surgical care possible. Rest assured that during your appointments leading up to the surgery as well as your child’s time in the hospital, your team will be by your side to guide you through the process.

Download our What to Expect PDF

Download our Scoliosis Surgery Checklist PDF

Scoliosis Surgery: From Hospital to Home

The information below is an overview to help you better understand the day-of-surgery process as well as what to expect post-surgerys.

What to Expect in the Hospital

On the day of your child’s scoliosis surgery, here’s what you’ll need to do:

  • Arrive at the hospital at least 2 hours before surgery.

  • When you arrive at the hospital, check in at our Admissions Department.

  • You will then go to the Procedure and Treatment Unit (PTU). No more than 2 family members who can go with a child to the PTU.

  • You and your child will meet your pre-operative nurse and anesthesiologist.

  • Your child will be given a medication that will help them relax and feel sleepy before they are administered anesthesia. You will be able to be with your child while the anesthesia is being administered.

  • You will be escorted to a waiting room and will receive updates throughout the procedure.

Once surgery is completed (usually 5–7 hours), our staff will gradually and gently waken your child in our Post-Anesthesia Care Unit (PACU). This process usually takes 2 hours and your surgeon will brief your family while you are in our PACU.

Once your child is awake, vital signs are stable and pain is well controlled, your child will be transported to the Pediatric Inpatient Floor (PICU). In the PICU, our staff focuses on monitoring your child’s vital signs, making sure they are getting restful sleep and providing any other help they may need, such as pain management.

What to Expect During Your Child’s Hospital Stay

A typical hospital stay after scoliosis surgery lasts between 4 and 6 days. Each day, your child will go through a number of tests and examinations to make sure they’re on the right track to a full recovery.

Be aware that while your child is in the hospital, they may need to:

  • Have IVs placed

  • Have blood drawn

  • Get X-rays

  • Use an oxygen cannula or mask

  • Receive medications or other treatments for pain management

  • Participate in physical therapy

  • Have liquids only for a while before transitioning to solid foods

Our specialists and physical therapists will work closely with your child to ensure they are on the right track to a full recovery. Each day, our specialists will make sure your child is continuing to recover by walking, decreasing pain medication, sitting more frequently, and progressing from a liquid diet to solid foods.

What to Expect When Going Home

Before your child is discharged from the hospital, we carefully follow all steps and hospital protocols to ensure they are ready to go home.

Every child and situation is different, however in general these are the things a doctor considers before discharging a child from the hospital:

  • When they can walk more than 50 feet

  • When they can eat solid food without feeling nauseous or vomiting

  • When they only need oral medicine for pain management

  • When they can go to the bathroom on their own

What To Expect at Home

Your surgeon will provide you with guidelines to help you take care of your child at home, and someone from your child’s care team will go over them with you before you leave the hospital. You’ll have a chance to ask questions so you can make sure you are well-informed before you go home. These guidelines will include more specific information about the topics below:

  • Incision Care:

    Keep the incision clean and dry. The top cotton dressing can be removed 10 days after surgery. Don’t remove the adhesive surgical tapes placed along your child’s incision since they will peel off naturally. Observe the incision for redness, swelling, tenderness, warmth, drainage, sores, foul odor and/or opening or separation of the incision. If you notice any of these issues, contact your doctor as soon as possible, since your child could have an infection.

  • Bathing:

    Your child can take a shower 10 days after surgery. Do not allow your child to soak in a bathtub or swim.

  • Diet:

    Encourage your child to eat a well-balanced diet that includes a variety of foods.

  • Pain Medication:

    Always give any medications to your child exactly as they have been prescribed by your child’s doctor. For instance, your doctor may have given you specific instructions, such as to give pain medication 20 minutes before an activity or to use a non-prescription pain medication like ibuprofen. If you’re not sure what to do, contact your doctor.

  • Stool Softener:

    After surgery, children can become constipated. For this reason, your doctor may prescribe a stool softener.

  • Post-op Brace:

    Before surgery, your doctor may have told you that your child will need to wear a brace for a period of time after surgery. Other times, after surgery, a doctor may decide that wearing a brace for a period of time may be helpful. In either case, your doctor will give you information about the brace and how to use it.

What to Expect During Follow-Up Appointments

Your child will have their first follow-up visit 6 weeks after surgery and at this time, your doctor will probably take X-rays to check on the spine implants. Most children need to attend routine 3-month, 6-month, 12-month, 2-year and 5-year follow-up appointments. At each appointment, your child will likely have X-rays and your child’s doctor will talk to you about when your child can progress with certain activities.

If you notice any of these signs or symptoms, call your doctor as soon as possible, or go to the emergency department if you are concerned that you shouldn’t wait. If your child:

  • Has a fever greater than 101 ̊ F (38.3 ̊ C)

  • Develops redness, swelling, warmth, tenderness, foul odor or sores around the incision

  • Has been bleeding from the incision

  • Has an incision that has broken open or separated

  • Has sudden, severe back pain

  • Falls hard on their back or side

  • Develops numbness and/or tingling in the arms or legs that persists

  • Has accidents of urine or bowel movements

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