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9 October 2009

Scoliosis surgery; is it worth the cost?

Featured in Complementary Therapy Magazine, October 2009.
by Dr Kevin Lau

It is about a ten-hour surgery in which they open you up on your side and on your back. In my particular surgery they would put three rods in my back and hold them together with five screws….In order to help my bone grow they took out one of my ribs and six of my discs, and they also took a bone graft from my lower hip (right on my butt). They took this bone and filled three cages that hold the bone which are in between the vertebra….

Culled from Scoliosis Surgery: Corey McConnell's Experience

If it sounds, gruesome, remember this is just the beginning. Corrective spinal surgery for scoliosis can be quite a distressing experience for adolescent patients and their parents. . Spinal surgery often involves an extensive amount of tissue and bone trauma that can result in excreting pain that the patient simply has to live with.

Worse, there is no guarantee that despite the steep cost of spinal surgery, the results would be as expected. In many cases, the remedy can be worse than the disease.

Then why do so many scoliosis patients continue to opt for spinal surgery?
That’s a million dollar question! I’ve been baffled by it and discovered that over these years, we have veered so far away from conventional modes of treatment and scalpel-free, quick-fix cures, that we’ve forgotten that there were “miraculous” recoveries from scoliosis even when doctors didn’t wield any scalpel.

This set me on an intensive search and during my last few years of practice and experience with hundreds (if not thousands of scoliosis patients), I’ve come to discover that THERE ARE, time-tested non-surgical treatment for scoliosis, whose knowledge is complete (or shall I say, deliberated) obliterated by the proponents of modern medicine.

I’ve been offering a combination of these safe and painless non-surgical treatments for disorders of lumbar spine to my patients at Orchard Clinic in Singapore since 2005 and an year later, won the "Best Health-care Provider Awards" by the Straits Time on October 18 2006.

My techniques draws the best protocols and methods from around the world, namely the Schroth method pioneered in Germany to the Vertetrac system developed in Israel, besides vibration therapy, physical therapy and the use of Meditrac (a special device based on the Vertetrac system) for correcting spinal curves (scoliosis), low back pain, sciatica and herniation, with very encouraging results.

The biggest advantage with my treatment is that besides being painless, it’s more cost-effective (costs a fraction of the cost of spinal surgery) and there are no side effects! The only requirement is that you begin your treatment in advance, in right earnest.

I once saw a patient who was diagnosed with scoliosis in 1996 during a regular check up at a school camp but was NOT offered any treatment, except for general monitoring of the progression of her spinal curvature through annual X-Rays and the prescription of glucosamine to ease her pain!

The result?

While in 1996 her curvature was only 10-20 degrees that could easily have been set right at that age, when the tissue is still soft, growing and amenable, by 2003, when she finally came to visit me, the curve had progressed to 39 degrees to the right (thoracic) and 27 degrees to the left (lumbar). Obviously, to correct this kind of curvature, at her advanced age took more time and careful intervention and the progress was also slower than what it would have been had she been brought to me earlier.

Nonetheless, she started with my program with a lot of commitment and steadfast devotion (She hasn’t missed a single appointment with me in all these years!)in 2003. At that time, she suffered from acute backaches after sitting or standing in one posture for long. However, with the comprehensive program at my clinic, her condition gradually started improving. Over time, her right thoracic curve improved by 9 degrees from 39 to 30 degrees, while the left lumbar curve went from 28 to 27 degrees. “My back doesn’t feel as stiff and the frequency of backaches have decreased. Thank you, Dr Lau,” she wrote in my feedback book, one day.

My treatment basically includes:

Nutrition therapy

I am a firm believer in that age-old dictum: We are what we eat. In the past couple of decades, an over consumption of “junk foods” has completely compromised our natural gut response and given birth to many lifestyle-related, degenerative diseases. Rather than offering a one-size-fit-all diet program to my patients, I customize it to their unique biomedical needs, as I believe that the metabolic response to food is different for different people.

Posture & Body Balance Training
There is now a huge body of research on outpatient physiotherapy, intensive inpatient rehabilitation, and bracing that’s proven the effectiveness of exercise in scoliosis treatment. A paper from researchers in Turkey published in the Saudi Medical Journal on Schroth’s three-dimensional exercise therapy --- that I use at my clinic for adolescent idiopathic scoliosis --- found that after six weeks, six months and one year, of therapy, all patients had an increase in muscle strength. What’s more, they also reported a significant improvement in their postural defects.
I however do a thorough radiographic evaluation before prescribing a personalized exercise regime, a precise “blue print” to work from to each of my patients. These specific exercises that I devise for each of my patients (We call them “Neuromuscular Re-Educative Exercises” at my clinic) even re-trains their mind-muscles for maximum, long-term results.

Vibration therapy
In one animal study (published in the October 2001 issue of The FASEB Journal), mere ten minutes per day of vibration therapy promoted near-normal rates of bone formation in rats. Consequently, this is a technique that I use intensively at my clinic.

State of the art medical devices
There are several state-of-the-art medical devices that I use at my clinic, namely:
Meditrac & Vertetrac
This is a huge improvement over the traditional traction devices devised by Dr. L. Stabholz and Dr. A. Grober. These doctors found that applying differential traction to patients with an antalgic lean (Sciatic Scoliosis) helped in restoring normal upright stance and decreasing muscle spasm, often leading to full recovery. Meditrac & Vertetrac are now extensively used in the patient’s rehabilitation process and accelerating blood flow to the tissues and intervertebral discs at my clinic.

Shockwave & Vibration Therapy
Shock Wave Therapy or ESWT implies the application of high-intensity ultrasonic acoustic radiation for the treatment of certain musculo-skeletal disorders. The machine focuses high energy sound waves on the injury through a protective pad that breaks down scar tissue and calcifications in the area, resulting in structural changes in the tissue, stimulation of bone growth, regeneration of the lost tissue and calcium absorption by the body, all of which are great for a full or partial recovery from scoliosis.

Non-Surgical Spinal Decompression
This FDA cleared technology relieves pain by enlarging the space between the discs. The treatment has been found to be remarkably effective in severe cases of herniation, degeneration, arthritis, stenosis and pressure on the nerve root. According to a clinical study performed by the Orthopedic Technological Review in 2004, 86% of all cases experienced spinal pain relief with disc decompression.
What are you waiting for?

Treat your scoliosis before it’s too late, i.e., before you cross 30 degrees of spinal curvature. Fix it before the problem spirals out of control. With timely intervention, we are able to reduce the curve to an ideal 5 degrees or less, thus defeating the disease rather than taming it.

The only thing to be borne in mind is that while surgery is usually over in a day or two at the hospital followed by subsequent rehabilitation, my program requires a lot more consistent effort, dedication and time. The advantage is that its significantly cheaper and safer than surgery.

Just think about it. Over 650,000 surgical procedures are performed annually for back pain in the United States that cost in excess of $20 billion per annum. “Can this money not be put to some better use,” questions Dr. Gunnar Andersson, former chairman of the department of Orthopedics at Rush. Dr Andersson and his team have found that often there is no link between people's health care expenditures and their health outcomes. This means that we often spend money on surgeries that are not required.

Don’t be part of that depressing statistic. Come and book your appointment with Dr Lau, today.

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