Pediatric spine specialists in Denver

Congenital spinal abnormalities are present at birth and have lasting effects on a child’s development. The pediatric spine specialists at Rocky Mountain Hospital for Children (RMHC) in Denver offer advanced treatment options and continued care for pediatric spinal disorders.

To learn more about treatment for pediatric scoliosis and other spinal disorders, please call (877) 752-2737.

Typically, spine-related congenital abnormalities are noted at birth, but they can also be difficult to identify. Simple skin tags, dimples or abnormal skin lesions on the back can help diagnose spinal abnormalities or a tethered spinal cord. It is important that children receive treatment before symptoms occur to prevent spinal cord damage.

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Our dedicated spine care team

At RMHC, we understand children with spinal disorders have complex conditions that need to be carefully evaluated by pediatric specialists in neurosurgery, urology, orthopedic care and rehabilitation medicine.

Our team brings together independent physicians in one location to make it easier for you and your child to see all of the necessary specialists without multiple doctor visits.

Using a truly multidisciplinary approach to spinal disorder management, our fellowship-trained pediatric subspecialists strive to optimize the functional abilities of each child. We have all of the pediatric subspecialists necessary to provide the highest level of care.

Pediatric spine disorders and conditions we treat

Our pediatric spine specialists in the Rocky Mountain region diagnose and treat:

  • Spina bifida
  • Caudal regression
  • Tethered spinal cord
  • VATER/VACTERL syndrome
  • Scoliosis
  • Other congenital spine abnormalities

Spine disorders in newborns

Spina bifida is a spinal abnormality that can be identified by an ultrasound before the child is born. Our Center for Maternal Fetal Health teams take time to talk with parents to discuss treatment options and talk through what this diagnosis might mean for their child. If a child is born with a spine abnormality, the evaluation will involve initial exams by a neurosurgeon and neonatologist. Ultrasounds of the head are often done to evaluate for hydrocephalus (water on the brain).

Surgery may be required to close the abnormality and place a shunt to drain excess fluid from the brain. Later evaluations by specialists in orthopedics and neurological care are essential to make sure all concerns are addressed. Contact our Center for Maternal Fetal Health team to discuss the latest options in fetal spina bifida (myelomeningocele) surgery.

After the initial hospital stay, a treatment and follow-up plan is designed for each child depending on his or her individual needs and challenges.

Evaluations are tailored to each child and may include:

  • Functional assessments as needed
  • MRIs
  • Skeletal X-rays
  • Urologic testing

Pediatric treatment of spine disorders

The evaluation of a patient with a spinal disorder may include functional goal assessment, orthopedic evaluation, urologic testing, education and close follow up with a pediatric neurosurgeon to assess for complications related to hydrocephalus, tethered spinal cord or Chiari malformation.

Children with spinal disorders need to learn to adapt to their physical limitations as they grow. Often, the use of crutches, braces or wheelchairs can help children achieve more independence. With new techniques, children also can learn to be independent with their bladder and bowel function.

Because of the neurologic problems that result from the damage to the spinal cord, patients with spinal disorders may need multiple surgeries and extensive medical care. Our goal is to use a team approach to improve communication between the members of our team, the family and the primary care physician.

Pediatric scoliosis care

The spine has natural curves that protect the nervous system and allow your body to move naturally. Often called the backbone, your spine is made up of many bones, called vertebrae, that run from the base of your skull to your tailbone. Pediatric scoliosis is a musculoskeletal disorder that causes the spine to curve sideways, either to the left or right.

When the spine’s natural curves become abnormal, it can lead to neck and back pain, headaches and reduced range of motion. The spine program at RMHC is home to some of the region’s most experienced physicians who treat scoliosis in children.

While some cases of pediatric scoliosis require treatment, children with milder cases may only need regular physician monitoring to ensure normal growth.

Types of scoliosis in children

The most common type of scoliosis in children is called adolescent idiopathic scoliosis, or scoliosis of unknown cause. Girls are more likely than boys to have this type of scoliosis, and it typically occurs after age 10.

The two scoliosis classifications are:

  • Nonstructural: A normal spine that temporarily appears curved caused by an underlying condition, such as varying leg length, muscle spasms or inflammatory conditions like appendicitis. This type of scoliosis is corrected by treating the underlying problem.
  • Structural: A fixed curve that may be part of a syndrome, disease or inherited connective tissue disorder. Neuromuscular diseases, congenital abnormalities, injury, certain infections, tumors, metabolic diseases, connective tissue disorders, rheumatic diseases or other unknown factors can cause this type of scoliosis.

While doctors don’t always know what causes scoliosis in children, it can be hereditary. Before diagnosing your child with idiopathic scoliosis, your doctor will look for underlying conditions, such as injuries or infections, which could cause an abnormal curve in the spine.

Diagnosing pediatric scoliosis

Your child’s doctor will most likely take the following steps to accurately diagnose pediatric scoliosis:

  • Detailed medical/family history: This includes reviewing past medical records to look for problems that might be causing the spine to curve, such as a congenital abnormality, trauma or other disorders.
  • Physical exam: Your child’s doctor will perform a full physical examination, checking to see if the shoulders and opposing sides of the body are level and the head is centered.
  • X-ray: An X-ray can confirm a scoliosis diagnosis by measuring the curve of the spine on the X-ray image.

Treatment for scoliosis in children

Many children have very mild spinal curves that do not require pediatric scoliosis treatment. When treatment is needed, your doctor will consider age, how much more your child is likely to grow, the degree and pattern of the curve and type to best decide treatment. Your doctor may also recommend one of the following:

  • Observation: Monitoring progress every few months without any treatment while your child is still growing and the curve is mild.
  • Bracing: For a moderate spinal curve, your doctor may recommend a brace to stop the curve from worsening. Braces must be worn as prescribed by your doctor until your child stops growing.
  • Alternative treatments: While not always clinically proven, some patients try other pediatric scoliosis treatment methods, including chiropractic manipulation, casting, electrical stimulation, dietary supplements and exercise.
  • Surgery: While your child is still growing, your doctor may recommend surgery to correct a severe curve or stop one from worsening.

Living with scoliosis

Children with pediatric scoliosis should exercise and play sports to minimize any potential decrease in mobility over time. Additionally, weight-bearing exercises like walking, running, soccer and gymnastics can increase bone density and help prevent osteoporosis later in life. Exercise is especially important for girls, who have a higher risk of developing osteoporosis as they age. If treated properly, children with pediatric scoliosis can go on to live a happy, healthy life.

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Child development conditions related to spinal abnormalities

Children with spinal disorders typically have a problem with the development of the spine or brain, called a neural tube defect. As a result, they tend to have multiple associated problems, including: