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Upper Spine News

Getting a Lung Full after Surgery for Scoliosis

Children and teenagers with scoliosis seem to avoid aerobic exercise. Scoliosis is an abnormal sideways curve of the spine. When it happens in children between 10 and 18 years of age, it's called adolescent idiopathic scoliosis (AIS). "Idiopathic" means that the cause is unknown. Activities that are aerobic require increased oxygen. This can put a strain on the lungs and the entire lung system for someone with AIS.

The reasons for avoidance of aerobic exercise aren't clear. It may be that breathing in and out during exercise is difficult with AIS. When the spine is abnormally curved, the lungs can get pressed together and shifted to one side.

Doctors hope to find ways to improve lung function. The hope is that children and teenagers with AIS can exercise at a higher level. This may allow them to play in many more sports and activities.

One way to treat AIS is with spinal fusion. This operation straightens and joins the problem area of the spine together. It's known that spinal fusion can improve breathing and lung function. However, the effect of spinal fusion on aerobic capacity hasn't been studied.

A group of surgeons at the St. Louis Children's Hospital measured aerobic capacity before and after surgery for AIS. Two different types of spinal fusion were done. It doesn't seem to matter which method is used to fuse the spine in AIS. The use of oxygen doesn't change afterward.

Spinal fusion doesn't improve aerobic capacity for patients with AIS. Breathing is better after surgery, but the ability to use more oxygen isn't increased. Perhaps an aerobic training program would make a difference. Further studies are needed to decide what works best.


Lawrence G. Lenke, MD, et al. Evaluation of Ventilatory Efficiency During Exercise in Patients With Idiopathic Scoliosis Undergoing Spinal Fusion. In Spine. September 15, 2002. Vol. 27. No. 18. Pp. 2041-2045.

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