Make your home page

Health Spotlight: Doctor discusses surgery for adults suffering from scoliosis

Health Spotlight: Aging backs turning into scoliosis

(WISH) — Doctors have given relief to a woman who was living in debilitating life-altering pain every day from scoliosis.

About 7 million people have been diagnosed with a sideways curve of the spine.

One type of scoliosis starts as a teen and progresses into adulthood, and the other develops later in life and is related to osteoarthritis and spinal degeneration.

Doctors are helping to straighten things out so older adults can live their golden years pain-free.

A scoliosis sufferer, Cynthia Friedland surrounds herself with color. “I just love art and it makes me happy to look around in my house.”

Friedland’s days turned gray when the pain of scoliosis forced her to quit her job as an intensive care unit nurse. “I couldn’t function. I couldn’t sit, I couldn’t stand, I couldn’t lie down.”

Doctors say 70% of adults older than 60 have a curved spine, and 20 % have curves greater than 20 degrees.

Dr. Shay Bess, a spine surgeon at Denver International Spine Center in Colorado, said, “As one ages, the joints in the discs, they become incompetent, which can then cause scoliosis.”

Friedland’s spine was pitched to the side and forward 40%. She had tried many procedures and medications. Fusion was a last resort.

Bess said, “I think at some point, people run out of gas and they’re miserable.”

Friedland described the fusion procedure. “They cut me open from chest to groin and then in the back, from the back all the way down.”

During an 11-hour spinal-deformity surgery, Bess fused five segments of Friedland’s spine together, bringing it back into alignment.

Bess says there’s no age limit for scoliosis. She has corrected spines for people well into their 80s.

The surgery It worked for Friedland.

She’s doing things she never thought she would ever get the chance to do. “I would never have thought about playing the piano before, but now, I can sit at a piano bench and play the piano.”

She says she is living life 100% pain-free.

The spine surgeon says, though, that pain is not the only reason people are opting to fix their backs later in life. In several of the studies Shay has led with the international spine study group, he found that self-image, not pain, was the leading factor in people opting to do surgery in their 60s, 70s and 80s., Straightening their backs not only made them look better but also helped their self-images.

The surgery can also improve mental health, Shay says.

This story was created from a script aired on WISH-TV. Health Spotlight is presented by Community Health Network.