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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.

8 October 2009

Vitamin D helps prevent falls in seniors

A daily high-dose vitamin D supplement can reduce the risk of falls in seniors, say researchers who reviewed the findings of eight fall prevention studies involving participants aged 65 and older.
The analysis revealed that taking between 700 and 1,000 international units (IU) of supplemental vitamin D per day (vitamin D2 or D3) reduces falls by 19% and by up to 26% with vitamin D3. The beneficial effect was significant within two to five months of starting treatment, extended beyond 12 months, and was independent of age, type of dwelling, or additional calcium supplementation, the researchers noted.

The study, published in the Oct. 2 online edition of BMJ, concluded that all people aged 65 and older should take at least 700 to 1,000 IU of supplemental vitamin D a day to reduce the risk of falling. Higher doses may be even more effective, which should be explored in future studies, the researchers wrote in a news release from the journal.

Supplemental vitamin D doses of less than 700 IU per day didn't reduce falls, Dr. Heike A. Bischoff-Ferrari, director of the Center on Aging and Mobility at University Hospital Zurich, Switzerland, and colleagues, wrote.

Active forms of vitamin D didn't appear to be more effective than the 700 to 1,000 IU supplemental vitamin D, said the study authors. They added that active forms of vitamin D cost more than standard supplemental vitamin D and are associated with increased risk for hypercalcemia — elevated calcium levels in the blood.

6 October 2009

Severe stress can cause stroke

Many patients urgently admitted to hospital with cerebral infarction state that they were under great stress over a prolonged period prior to suffering their stroke, is shown in a unique patient study conducted in cooperation between the Sahlgrenska Academy at the University of Gothenburg and Sahlgrenska University Hospital, Sweden.

The study is published in the scientific journal BMC Medicine.

"There appears to be a correlation between stress and stroke, but this needs to be interpreted with great caution. We asked about self-perceived stress among the stroke patients, and there is, of course, a risk of patients who have just had a cerebral infarction remembering incorrectly or over-interpreting with regard to their level of stress, says Katarina Jood, who is a researcher at the Sahlgrenska Academy and a neurologist at Sahlgrenska University Hospital.

Nearly 600 patients were asked to complete a questionnaire in this study, no later than ten days after being admitted to Sahlgrenska University Hospital with acute cerebral infarction. In the questionnaire, the patients were asked to choose between six different alternatives to indicate how stressed they had felt before their stroke, from "never been stressed" to "constantly stressed over the past five years". The patients' responses were compared with a healthy control group who were asked the same question.

"We found an independent link between self-perceived psychological stress and stroke. A new finding was that the link between stress and stroke varies between different types of cerebral infarction," says Jood.

The study shows that there is a link to stress in those cases where the stroke is caused by atherosclerosis or to blood clots that have developed locally in the smaller vessels of the brain. The link was also found for those patients in whom it had not been possible to establish the cause of the stroke despite an extensive evaluation. On the other hand, the researchers could not see any independent correlation with stress for those patients who had had a stroke due to a blood clot from the heart.

"We do not know why stress appears to play a greater role in particular types of stroke, but it is an important finding as it prompts further studies on what role stress plays in the development of stroke," says Jood.


Stroke is due in 85 per cent of cases to cerebral infarction ('ischaemic stroke') and in 15 per cent of cases to brain haemorrhage. The patient may suffer from impaired mobility, sensory impairment and difficulty in thinking and speaking. Stroke is the most common cause of long-term dependency on care. Around 30 000 Swedish people are affected annually.

5 October 2009

Daily sweets 'linked to violence'

Children who eat sweets and chocolate every day are more likely to be violent as adults, according to UK researchers.

The Cardiff University study involving 17,500 people is the first into effects of childhood diet on adult violence.

It found 10-year-olds who ate sweets daily were significantly more likely to have a violence conviction by age 34.

Researchers suggested they had not learnt to delay gratification, but other experts said already "difficult" children might be given more sweets.

The researchers looked at data on around 17,500 people and found that 69% of the participants who were violent at the age of 34 had eaten sweets and chocolate nearly every day during childhood, compared to 42% who were non-violent.


This link between confectionery consumption and later aggression remained even after controlling for other factors such as parenting behaviour, the area where the child lived, not having educational qualifications after the age of 16 and whether they had access to a car when they were 34.

The researchers put forward several explanations for the link including the idea that the confectionery makes the adult addicted to certain additives and that these may contribute towards adult aggression.

The study was reported in the British Journal of Psychiatry.

Stunted learning

Dr Simon Moore, who led the study, has carried out previous research on young offenders.

He was aware that they tend to have very poor diets including lots of confectionery -but was intrigued to find the link.

He said: "Our favoured explanation is that giving children sweets and chocolate regularly may stop them learning how to wait to obtain something they want.

"Not being able to defer gratification may push them towards more impulsive behaviour, which is strongly associated with delinquency.

"Targeting resources at improving children's diet may improve health and reduce aggression."

Professor Alan Maryon-Davis, president of the UK Faculty of Public Health, said: "Another explanation is that children who are already more demanding, aggressive and 'difficult' are more likely to be given sweets and chocolates to keep them quiet for a while.

"It is an interesting area that needs looking into a little more deeply."

Julian Hunt, Food and Drink Federation (FDF) director of communications, said: "This is either utter nonsense or a very bad April Fool's Day joke.

"Anti-social behaviour stems from deep-rooted social and environmental factors, such as poor parenting and a deprived upbringing, and is not linked to whether or not you ate sweeties as a kid.

"We think that rewarding bad behaviour in childhood with confectionary can lead to later problems but we need to look at this more closely."