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YOUR HEALTH: Straightening out the spine with a “rope”

One young gymnast is one of the first to get “braces” for her spine.   It’s a new scoliosis treatment for twisted backs.

DENVER, Colorado – Imagine, the faster you grow, the faster your spine curves.

That's what happens when you're a child with scoliosis.

It can be painful and debilitating.

"I just have had quite a lot of balance and on the bars I just ended up getting high scores," says Sophie Clem.

But this is the first time in five months she's been back in the gym.

Sophia was worried her tumbling days were numbered.  She was diagnosed at age seven with scoliosis.

"It just kinda looked like a curve."

"We tried bracing, physical therapy, chiropractic care," said her mother Denise

But her condition got worse.

What started as a 14 degree curve was now 36 degrees.

Pediatric orthopedic surgeon Dr. Jaren Riley's main concern for kids with scoliosis: keep them moving and maintain their range of motion.

One option: a traditional spinal fusion that would likely stop Sophia's growth or a new experimental surgery called vertebral body tethering.

"We place these screws, one screw into each of these individual bones of the spine. and then between each of those screws we place a rope. then tension that rope between the screws to make this curve straighten out," explained Dr. Riley, from Rocky Mountain Hospital for Children.

Think of it like braces for the spine.

"We have a rope that holds the bones together, so you still have motion there and you still have the ability to turn, bend and to twist while the spine continues to grow into a more natural shape.," said Dr. Riley.

Doctors saw immediate results.

"The one thing I want to get back is like handstands or cartwheels on the beam cause they're really fun to do," said Sophie.

HOW IT WORKS:   Dr. Riley explained: "So essentially in a curved spine, you have a longer side and a shorter side. And we go through a camera approach inside the chest to the long side of the spine and we hold onto it to stop the growth. So, the long side of the spine stays put. The short side keeps growing. And the curve starts to straighten out over time."

The surgery just received FDA approval.   Risks include injury to the heart and lungs, infection, nerve damage and paralysis.

Because it is new, long term issues are not known.

If this story has impacted your life or prompted you or someone you know to seek or change treatments, please let us know by contacting Jim Mertens at jim.mertens@wqad.com or Marjorie Bekaert Thomas at mthomas@ivanhoe.com.