Risk-benefit assessment of surgery for adult scoliosis: an analysis based on patient age.


Study design

Retrospective review of a prospective, multicenter database.


The purpose of this study was to assess whether elderly patients undergoing scoliosis surgery had an incidence of complications and improvement in outcome measures comparable with younger patients.

Summary of background data

Complications increase with age for adults undergoing scoliosis surgery, but whether this impacts the outcomes of older patients is largely unknown.


This is a retrospective review of a prospective, multicenter spinal deformity database. Patients complete the Oswestry Disability Index (ODI), SF-12, Scoliosis Research Society-22 (SRS-22), and numerical rating scale (NRS; 0-10) for back and leg pain. Inclusion criteria included age 25 to 85 years, scoliosis (Cobb ≥ 30°), plan for scoliosis surgery, and 2-year follow-up.


Two hundred six of 453 patients (45%) completed 2-year follow-up, which is distributed among age groups as follows: 25 to 44 (n = 47), 45 to 64 (n = 121), and 65 to 85 (n = 38) years. The percentages of patients with 2-year follow-up by age group were as follows: 25 to 44 (45%), 45 to 64 (48%), and 65 to 85 (40%) years. These groups had perioperative complication rates of 17%, 42%, and 71%, respectively (P < 0.001). At baseline, elderly patients (65-85 years) had greater disability (ODI, P = 0.001), worse health status (SF-12 physical component score (PCS), P < 0.001), and more severe back and leg pain (NRS, P = 0.04 and P = 0.01, respectively) than younger patients. Mean SRS-22 did not differ significantly at baseline. Within each age group, at 2-year follow-up there were significant improvements in ODI (P ≤ 0.004), SRS-22 (P ≤ 0.001), back pain (P < 0.001), and leg pain (P ≤ 0.04). SF-12 PCS did not improve significantly for patients aged 25 to 44 years but did among those aged 45 to 64 (P < 0.001) and 65 to 85 years (P = 0.001). Improvement in ODI and leg pain NRS were significantly greater among elderly patients (P = 0.003, P = 0.02, respectively), and there were trends for greater improvements in SF-12 PCS (P = 0.07), SRS-22 (P = 0.048), and back pain NRS (P = 0.06) among elderly patients, when compared with younger patients.


Collectively, these data demonstrate the potential benefits of surgical treatment for adult scoliosis and suggest that the elderly, despite facing the greatest risk of complications, may stand to gain a disproportionately greater improvement in disability and pain with surgery.





Published Version (Please cite this version)


Publication Info

Smith, Justin S, Christopher I Shaffrey, Steven D Glassman, Sigurd H Berven, Frank J Schwab, Christopher L Hamill, William C Horton, Stephen L Ondra, et al. (2011). Risk-benefit assessment of surgery for adult scoliosis: an analysis based on patient age. Spine, 36(10). pp. 817–824. 10.1097/brs.0b013e3181e21783 Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10161/29242.

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Christopher Ignatius Shaffrey

Professor of Orthopaedic Surgery

I have more than 25 years of experience treating patients of all ages with spinal disorders. I have had an interest in the management of spinal disorders since starting my medical education. I performed residencies in both orthopaedic surgery and neurosurgery to gain a comprehensive understanding of the entire range of spinal disorders. My goal has been to find innovative ways to manage the range of spinal conditions, straightforward to complex. I have a focus on managing patients with complex spinal disorders. My patient evaluation and management philosophy is to provide engaged, compassionate care that focuses on providing the simplest and least aggressive treatment option for a particular condition. In many cases, non-operative treatment options exist to improve a patient’s symptoms. I have been actively engaged in clinical research to find the best ways to manage spinal disorders in order to achieve better results with fewer complications.

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