Magnets Used on Curved Spines
Scoliosis, or a curved spine, doesn’t seriously affect many children – one in 40 in the UK, with 90% of those cases correcting themselves – but those that it does need to go through wearing a back brace and multiple operations, with the overall experience damaging a child’s self esteem and outlook on life.
But now, according to draft guidelines from the National Institute for Health and Care Alliance (NICE), a new treatment is available to straighten these children’s spine that could reduce the mental trauma, as well as the physical.
Scoliosis is usually recognised in children when they display a few physical symptoms, such as the obvious curved spine, a tendency to lean to one side, or a single prominent hip or shoulder. The condition is far less likely to appear in adults, and when it does it presents itself in the form of back pain, but more adult cases occur in older people.
A back brace is the usual treatment for lesser cases of scoliosis. However, when a back brace doesn’t work, the patient needs to undergo surgery that involves rod placement along the curve of the spine. This surgery is quite invasive, and as the child grows the rod needs to be adjusted, which is done via more operations under a general anaesthetic.
But the new treatment involves extendable, magnetic rods – that can be adjusted simply, with a remote control. The titanium rods are attached to the ribs or spine like the regular rods, but instead of needing an operation to adjust them, the patient can visit an outpatient clinic. There, magnets inside a remote control interact with the magnetic rod, adjusting the rod without the patient needing to go through surgery. This ultimately means the child only needs to endure through two operations – one for insertion of the rod, and one for removal.
“This has the potential to take away some of the upsetting parts of the rod treatment,” explained Laura Counsell from the UK Scoliosis Association. “Children can build up quite an aversion to going to hospital every six months or so for surgery.”
The treatment, called Magec, or Magnetic Expansion Control, could be used for severe cases of scoliosis in patients between the ages of two and 11, but NICE have only recommended the new rods be used when other treatments, like a back brace, don’t work, much as the regular rod operations are issued.
The magnetic rod treatment appears to be a better alternative all round – it’s even cheaper than regular rod insertion and adjustment with the potential of saving the NHS about £12,000 per patient after six years.
And, as NICE’s Director for Health Technology Evaluation Professor Carole Longson explained, “by avoiding the need for repeated surgical complications and infections”, the magnetic rods will also be reducing pain, distress, the amount of scarring, and time off school.