How Can Magnets Help Correct Severe Scoliosis in Kids?

October 27, 2018

Clinical Contributors to this Story

Amit Merchant, D.O. contributes to topics such as Orthopedics, Pediatrics.

By Marisa Tranchina

Learning that your child has scoliosis can be daunting. Luckily, most cases of scoliosis in adolescents can be corrected by non-surgical means, such as bracing or physical therapy.

When the spine has a curve of about 50 degrees or more however, many doctors recommend surgery.

“Surgery is usually recommended to help correct the spinal deformity and to help avoid future medical complications, such as chronic pain or damage to the heart or lungs,” explains Amit Merchant, D.O., pediatric orthopedic surgeon at Hackensack University Medical Center. “There are a few surgical approaches to treat scoliosis – and your surgeon would determine the best course of care based on your child’s condition – but a new option that involves the use of magnets can drastically improve the experience for some patients.”

These magnets are specifically used when a surgeon determines growing rods should be used to help correct the scoliosis.

How do growing rods work?

Children under 10 years of age have a lot of growth ahead, which makes them viable candidates for the use of growing rods.

“Two rods held together by a connector are surgically attached to the spine,” explains Merchant. “These rods are adjusted over time to help a child’s spine grow straight.”

After the scoliosis is corrected, the growing rods are removed and a spinal fusion procedure takes place to fuse together the curved vertebrae and prevent further progression of scoliosis.

Where do magnets fit in?

Traditionally, when growing rods are used, children have to go through several repeat surgeries.

Initial surgery takes place to implant the rods, then every six months to one year the child has to go back into the operating room to lengthen the rods. This may occur for four to five years for a child.

“Not only is it painful for the child, but recovery from each surgery takes a few weeks and scar tissue builds up over time, causing rigid and tough spots and scars on the skin,” adds Merchant. “Now a magnetic system exists where after the initial surgery, the rods can be adjusted externally, without additional incisions. It’s minimally invasive, completely painless, and your child can be back to their normal activities immediately after their brief doctor’s appointments.”

The magnetic rods have to be surgically removed once the curve is fully corrected and the final spinal fusion takes place, as traditionally seen, but the process is dramatically different.

What complications can occur?

“With any procedure your child may be going through, it’s normal to be concerned about potential complications,” says Merchant. “Similar to any spinal surgery, when implanting magnetic rods, there’s a slight risk of damage to the spinal cord or nerve roots. But that’s why we work with a neuro-technician to closely monitor the nerves during surgery.”

And like any magnetic medical device, patients with magnetic rods are not allowed to obtain MRIs while the rods are in place.

“For some parents, especially parents of disabled children who may need MRIs more often, this is a deterrent,” adds Merchant.

Overall, this new instrumentation offers many benefits for children who have severe scoliosis.

“Our goal is always to get a child back to ‘normal’,” explains Merchant. “The magnetic systems allows us to correct severe scoliosis in a way that’s far less painful and intrusive than traditional means.”

Dr. Amit Merchant is one of few orthopedic surgeons in New Jersey to use magnetic rods to treat severe scoliosis in children. To schedule a consultation with Dr. Merchant, click here. To learn more about orthopedic services at Hackensack Meridian Health, visit HackensackMeridianHealth.org/Orthopedics.

The material provided through Health Hub is intended to be used as general information only and should not replace the advice of your physician. Always consult your physician for individual care.