Scoliosis care at Mayo Clinic

Your Mayo Clinic care team

Pediatric specialists work together to provide the best care for each child who has scoliosis. Mayo Clinic fosters a unique practice environment where doctors and nurses collaborate to safely innovate and to develop the best treatment plans for children with spine conditions.

Orthotic specialists are involved in making braces, while physical therapists can help with rehabilitation if surgery is deemed necessary. Child life specialists teach children and their families what to expect at each stage of treatment. When needed, scoliosis surgery is performed by Mayo Clinic surgeons specializing in child and adolescent spine disorders.

Advanced imaging technology

Pediatric radiologists at Mayo Clinic use advanced techniques, such as a newer type of X-ray machine that reduces radiation exposure while producing detailed 3D images. Mayo surgeons frequently create patient-specific 3D models to help surgeons see exactly what the structures look like before they ever make an incision.

Mayo Clinic teams include pediatric neuroradiologists and radiation physicists who specialize in pediatric spine imaging, low-dose imaging and diagnosis of complex spine conditions.

Newest treatment options

At Mayo Clinic, treatment options may include:

  • Vertebral body tethering (VBT). This procedure requires only a handful of small incisions. Screws are placed along the outside edge of the spinal curve and a strong, flexible cord is threaded through the screws. When the cord is tightened, the spine straightens. VBT preserves motion and spinal growth, but it's not suited to all types of scoliosis.
  • Expanding rod. If the scoliosis is progressing rapidly at a young age, surgeons can attach one or two expandable rods along the spine that can adjust in length as the child grows. The rods are lengthened every 3 to 6 months either with surgery or at the doctor's office using a remote control.
  • Mehta casting. For children under 3, Mayo Clinic doctors sometimes recommend a series of body casts that are replaced every few months as the child grows.
  • Robot-assisted surgery. Mayo Clinic surgeons routinely use robotic assistance during complex spinal surgeries. Imaging is often used during complicated operations to help surgical navigation. Neurologists monitor the child's spinal cord during surgery to provide early warning if it's being affected.

Katelyn beats scoliosis with new innovative surgery

Katelyn Miller: I've always just been a super active person. I was really involved in competitive sports growing up, pretty much all year around.

Laura Miller: Her schedule was extremely rigorous. There are times where she would practice six days a week. It was really tricky to get her to slow down.

Katelyn Miller: It was junior year and I was just like struggling with all the back pain, worse than any kind of like minor injury I ever really felt before. So I went into a doctor, I got x-rays and I just remember like looking at the X-ray and I was like, the spine is supposed to be in a straight line and it was just all over the place. The doctor told me that I had scoliosis. I was pretty much fully grown. So I couldn't do the bracing and all like the pre-treatment stuff of when you catch it early.

Laura Miller: Both my husband and I were just like where did this come from? Again, just thought it was because she was toughing out all these injuries.

Katelyn Miller: I hated the idea of having a fused spine and not being able to do all the bending and twisting. But that's when we came across Mayo and tethering surgeries versus the full spinal fusion.

A. Noelle Larson, M.D., Pediatric Orthopedic Surgery, Mayo Clinic: Mayo is a great place to responsibly innovate. Because we truly have a culture of research. You just can't go out and try something new without studying it. That allows us to bring new technology to patients in a rapid fashion. For the first time in 40 years, we do have some truly new approaches to treating severe scoliosis. One form of non-fusion scoliosis surgery is posterior dynamic distraction. So instead of placing two metal rods and screws in the back, the surgical procedure is three screws and one rod. And it is a special rod because the rod can move and the rod can expand and grow over time. I talked to her about the device and told her we're waiting for the approval.

Katelyn Miller: I literally was like, sign me up. I don't care if no one's done it before, I want to do it. Like I'm all in for it.

Laura Miller: I'm thinking she's going to go have a major surgery that's never been done in the United States before. She could be a great candidate for it, but still nothing was approved.

Katelyn Miller: I decided, okay, I'm just going to get through my senior year. I eventually had to stop hurdling and stop jumping. I finally got to the point where I was like, I can't jump because it feels like there's a knife in my back every time I'm landing.

A. Noelle Larson, M.D.: We had the full approval in spring of 2020. We brought her back and had a frank discussion. You'll be our first patient at Mayo having this done. But she was very comfortable that this was the right choice for her to achieve correction of her back, postpone fusion, hopefully indefinitely, and still preserve motion in her back.

Laura Miller: We all felt really good about it. You know, obviously it's the Mayo Clinic and right away we all just felt like super at ease. I absolutely really did trust the fact that she wasn't going to be in pain any longer.

Katelyn Miller: Everything's gone so smoothly. And like I was able to like return and do all the things I love so quickly. Total recovery from when I got the surgery to when I was like fully back, like lifting weights, doing yoga, couldn't have been longer than three months.

A. Noelle Larson, M.D.: It was wonderful to see her at the one-year mark. We saw preserved spinal motion over the levels of the implants. Would you lean down and touch your toes? That's the whole concept behind the device, providing an alternative to fusion surgery for patients with severe scoliosis. Mayo Clinic was the first in the U.S. to be able to perform this procedure. It highlights the ability for Mayo to safely innovate. We're able to bring new treatments and new technologies to our patients, to study these new technologies, and to make the procedures as safe as possible, as efficient as possible, and to get patients back to their usual lives, and not worrying about their backs.

Laura Miller: She was up and moving like so quickly. It was impressive to see her bounce back so quickly.

A. Noelle Larson, M.D.: That looks really good. No change in the screw alignment.

Laura Miller: I felt good just because she's not in pain anymore. The whole thing has been great. The whole Mayo Clinic experience was nothing but positive.

Katelyn Miller: There are options that don't have to make you like stop your life, or not live the life that you want to live and not be as active as you want to be. It's been amazing to see like how much it straightens my back, but also how little impact it's had on the rest of my life.

Expertise and rankings

Doctors at Mayo Clinic have been treating childhood and adolescent scoliosis for more than 80 years. Pediatric specialists at Mayo Clinic Children's Center have significant expertise and experience in treating children with complex and rare diseases. More than 800 children visit Mayo Clinic for scoliosis care each year.

Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, Mayo Clinic in Phoenix/Scottsdale, Arizona, and Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Florida, are ranked among the Best Hospitals for orthopedics by U.S. News & World Report. Mayo Clinic Children's Center in Rochester is ranked the No. 1 hospital in Minnesota, and the five-state region of Iowa, Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wisconsin, according to U.S. News & World Report's 2023-2024 "Best Children's Hospitals" rankings.

Mayo Clinic Children's Center

Highly skilled pediatric experts diagnose and treat all types of conditions in children. As a team, we work together to find answers, set goals and develop a treatment plan tailored to your child's needs.

Learn more about the Children's Center.

Locations, travel and lodging

Mayo Clinic has major campuses in Phoenix and Scottsdale, Arizona; Jacksonville, Florida; and Rochester, Minnesota. The Mayo Clinic Health System has dozens of locations in several states.

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Costs and insurance

Mayo Clinic works with hundreds of insurance companies and is an in-network provider for millions of people.

In most cases, Mayo Clinic doesn't require a physician referral. Some insurers require referrals or may have additional requirements for certain medical care. All appointments are prioritized on the basis of medical need.

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May 13, 2023