Expert Q&A: Can My Spine Be Straightened?

What you need to know if you are considering spine surgery for ankylosing spondylitis.

Question: I have ankylosing spondylitis and my back has fused into a stooped position. Is there anything that can be done to straighten it at this point?

Answer: With longstanding ankylosing spondylitis, a spine can fuse in a severely stooped position, making it impossible for you to stand erect or look straight ahead. If you have this type of fusion, surgery may help straighten your spine, but the procedure is not easy and doesn't work for everyone.

If you'd like to check into it, I would recommend you see an orthopaedic surgeon who specializes in correcting spinal deformities and have him evaluate you.

If the majority of the deformity is in the upper spine, removing bone from the base of the neck and fusing the neighboring vertebra can make it possible to hold your head straight and look ahead, instead of down at your feet. If most of the deformity is in the lower spine, a similar procedure performed just above waist level may help. In some cases of ankylosing spondylitis, spine corrections are done at both levels.

The operation should be performed in a major spinal center by a surgeon who is highly specialized in correcting spinal deformity. The surgeon should be qualified in both education and experience. Complications of ankylosing spondylitis surgery can include slow or incomplete healing at the site of the fusion and, in rare cases, loss of sensation or weakness in the limbs. The success rate of the procedure is fairly high — about 80%.

Jeffrey T. Nugent, MD
Orthopaedic Surgeon
Atlanta, Georgia

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