Medical Moment: Breakthrough spine treatment for scoliosis

Published: May. 24, 2023 at 5:38 PM EDT
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(WNDU) - Up to 9,000,000 people are living with scoliosis, a condition where the spine curves sideways, causing pain and deformities.

Traditionally, kids are put in back braces to try to straighten things out. If that doesn’t work, fusion surgery is the next step. But that has its limitations. Now, a new, less invasive treatment option is giving kids an easier way to ease their pain.

“We like to go to Target and spend money,” Ruby Levitt said.

That’s not at all these two sisters have in common; they both have scoliosis. So do their mother and grandmother.

“It’s really uncomfortable,” said Ire Levitt. “I can feel it all the time.”

“I was in a lot of pain,” Ruby said.

The difference between the two is Ire has not had surgery, but little sister Ruby tried something new to straighten her spine, vertebral body tethering, or VBT.

“It allows us to approach the spine differently in a way where we don’t have to disrupt quite as many muscles and underlying anatomy,” said Jaren Riley, MD, a pediatric orthopedic surgeon at Rocky Mountain Hospital for Children. “It also allows us to maintain the flexibility of the spine.”

Through four small incisions, Dr. Riley used a rope, similar to nylon, to tether the bones of the spine together.

“With the rope, we can tighten the rope, which allows us to straighten the curve to a certain degree,” Dr. Riley explained. “And so, the curve will gradually get straighter and straighter.”

Ruby had a 52-degree curve in her spine before surgery. After VBT, it was 18. She’s pain-free and an inch taller!

“I was really excited about it, and I, like, felt normal for once,” Ruby said.

Now, big sister Ire is hoping to follow in her footsteps and have her surgery this summer.

Right now, VBT is only approved for kids who are still growing, but Dr. Riley is working hand-in-hand with insurance companies and the FDA to broaden those restrictions.