Maureen Daniels was diagnosed with idiopathic scoliosis in grade school, but she wouldn’t wear a brace for several years later — a point at which her spine was so curved, she couldn’t go for a stroll around her neighborhood in Stillwater, Minnesota.

“I was just miserable,” says now-76-year-old Daniels, who needed to take off the brace anytime she needed to use the restroom or change her clothes.

A life-changing treatment

In October 2016, the mother of three and grandmother of four underwent posterior spinal fusion (PSF) surgery at the University of Minnesota (UM) to straighten her spine and get back on her feet.

“It’s just hard to believe,” says Daniels, whose spine had been curved 66 degrees.

The surgery, which involved placing 29 screws and two rods on either side of Daniels’ spine, among other steps, is just one of many potentially promising treatments for scoliosis — a condition that affects an estimated 2 to 3 percent, or 6 to 9 million people, in the United States, according to the American Association of Neurological Surgeons. The definite cause of idiopathic scoliosis is unknown.

“If braces are worn, it’s our best guess that in 80 percent of kids we can prevent needing surgery later."

Early intervention

David Polly Jr., M.D., professor and chief of spine surgery at the University of Minnesota, and Daniels’ surgeon, says other scoliosis treatment advancements on the horizon include: an exercise program studied that may slow the progression of the condition, research to identify a possible genetic pathway associated with scoliosis and a cellphone attachment that may better customize treatment.

To help the cause, Polly, who recently served as president of the Scoliosis Research Society (SRS), advised doctors to watch for signs of scoliosis early enough, when children are just hitting their growth spurt — that’s fifth or sixth grade for girls, and about two years later for boys. This way, more surgery can be avoided.

Reputable research suggests braces work, he pointed out. “If braces are worn, it’s our best guess that in 80 percent of kids we can prevent needing surgery later,” he says, adding that when a patient’s spine is curved about 45 to 50 degrees, surgery is recommended.

ON THE HORIZON: There are a lot of exciting possibilities for scoliosis patients, including a pill that would prevent the condition entirely, that will work towards bettering the quality of their lives and making symptoms more managable.


Hope for the future

To get to a world without scoliosis symptoms, Polly says there's movement towards developing a pill to address the genetic pathway likely associated with scoliosis and prevent the condition.

“We’re chasing it; we’re getting closer and closer, but we’re not there,” he says.

But for now, the current advancements are making a world of difference for scoliosis patients. Just ask Daniels, who recently walked 3 miles post-surgery.

“I just feel that it’s a miracle,” Daniels says.