Early definitive spinal fusion in young children: What we have learned

Lori A. Karol

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

82 Scopus citations


Background: Early-onset scoliosis, when left untreated, leads to severe deformity. Until the last decade, treatment of progressive curves in young children often consisted of definitive spinal fusion. The recognition of thoracic insufficiency syndrome associated with definitive early fusion has led to the development of new surgical techniques developed to preserve spinal and thoracic growth in young patients with progressive scoliosis. Questions/purposes: We asked: (1) Does early definitive fusion arrest progression of spinal deformity? To what extent does early definitive spinal fusion influence (2) pulmonary function and (3) thoracic growth? Methods: A Medline search of the published literature on early-onset scoliosis, congenital scoliosis, and infantile scoliosis between 2008 and 2010 was performed on spinal fusion for early-onset scoliosis, focusing on studies reporting pulmonary function at followup. Results: Spinal deformity is apparently not well controlled by early fusion since revision surgery has been required in 24% to 39% of patients who underwent presumed definitive fusion in early childhood. Restrictive pulmonary disease, defined as forced vital capacity less than 50% of normal, occurs in 43% to 64% of patients who undergo early fusion surgery with those children who have extensive thoracic fusions and whose fusions involve the proximal thoracic spine at highest risk. Thoracic growth after early surgery is an average of 50% of that seen in children with scoliosis who do not have early surgery. Diminished thoracic spinal height correlates with decreased forced vital capacity. Conclusions: The literature does not support routine definitive fusion of thoracic spinal deformity at an early age in children with scoliosis. Level of Evidence: Level IV, therapeutic study. See Guidelines for Authors for a complete description of levels of evidence.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1323-1329
Number of pages7
JournalClinical orthopaedics and related research
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 2011

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Surgery
  • Orthopedics and Sports Medicine


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